As It Happens

This photographer won a permit to hunt grizzly bears — but his only shot will be from a camera

As conflicts between grizzly bears and humans in Wyoming increase, the state is opening the largest bear hunt in U.S. history. Thomas Mangelsen wants to stop it.

Once considered endangered in Wyoming, the state has issued permits to cull 22 grizzly bears

Thomas Mangelson has been a nature photographer for more than 40 years. (Sue Cedarholm/Submitted by Thomas Mangelsen)
Listen6:09

Photographer Thomas Mangelsen is one of a handful of people in Wyoming to get a permit for the United States' largest grizzly bear hunt ever.

When the season opens on Sept. 15, Mangelsen, 72, will be out shooting — but he won't bear arms.

"There's nothing to say that you'd have to shoot a grizzly with a gun. You can shoot it with a camera," the Jackson Hole, Wyo., man told As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway.

For the first time in more than four decades, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is handing out licenses to hunt 22 grizzly bears around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Over 7,000 people from the state and beyond applied for the $600 US permit.

'Shoot 'em With Your Camera'

Mengelsen is a part of a movement called Shoot 'em With Your Camera, which encourages people to shoot the grizzlies with camera shutters, not triggers.

While it's unclear how many of the 7,000 applicants are against the cull, it has attracted big names, including conservationist Jane Goodall.

Mangelsen snapped this photo of Grizzly 399 crossing the Snake River with Mount Moran pictured in the background at Grand Teton National Park. (Submitted by Thomas Mangelsen)

Grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone were listed as endangered in 1975. Last year, the rare bear was de-listed after populations in the area jumped from 136 at their lowest to about 700.

While some Wyomingites, particularly ranchers and sports hunters, see the creatures as a nuisance and danger, some conservationsts — including Mangelsen — work to slow the cull.

"One year they're on an endangered species list and the next year they're hunted. There's something wrong with that," he said

Death threats

Conservationists and activists entered their name in the permit draw for a chance to keep hunters out of the forests — only one person will be allowed to hunt for a 10-day period.

Mangelsen won his permit on July 26.

"I've spent 40 years observing bears," he said. "If these people would spend three days observing bears without hunting them, they would probably not want to shoot a bear either."

During Mangelsen's 10-day hunt, he said he hopes he can save at least one bear from a bullet.

But his plan is not without its critics.

"I've had one death threat and … a number of ugly hate responses," he said.

"But there's been a really outpouring of congratulatory comments from the normal, average person in Jackson Hole."

'Monday-morning quarterbacking'

As the grizzly bear population in Wyoming has grown, so too has the number of unexpected bear killings. USA Today writes that Wyoming officials killed at least 14 bears in self-defence or because of threats to livestock last year.

Mangelsen said he doesn't believe the deaths are necessary.

"Once in a while a bear will get near humans and maybe cause problems, but if that's the case then you take out that bear," he said.

"You move it — hopefully physically — and not kill it."

This photo by Mangelsen shows a young grizzly surveying the meadow along Pilgrim Creek in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. (Submitted by Thomas Mangelsen)

Local hunting guide Sy Gilliland said opposition from environmentalists like Mangelsen is like being "Monday-morning quarterbacked." 

"The science backs this up. This bear population has recovered. It's de-listed. The bear is heavily studied. It's heavily monitored," Gilliland told USA Today.

Sierra Club, a environmental group, disputed that claim in a letter signed by 73 scientists and released in April.

Even as the population grows, they say, the bears remain too vulnerable for a "sport hunt."

'A crime to kill'

As the hunt approaches, Mangelsen said he worries about one bear in particular — a female known by her tag number "399."

She, like other bears, have become more comfortable with humans. He said they follow the sound of gunshots to find game scraps left by hunters.

399, he said, is often found on the side of a road where passersby snap photos of her.

"She would walk through groups of people and to get across the road, sometimes she would stop and look both directions," he said, adding she would then call her cubs to the other side.

Grizzly 399 and her three cubs walk along Pilgrim Creek Road in Grand Teton National Park. (Submitted by Thomas Mangelsen)

Mangelsen has shot photos of 399 for the past 11 years, and has seen her give birth to three sets of triplets. Half of them have been killed in human conflict, he said,

In the area 399 roams, only one female can be killed in this fall's hunt, but that doesn't satisfy Mangelsen.

"I just think it's a crime to kill something that is that intelligent and has the same kind of emotions that we do."

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview with Thomas Mangelsen produced by Nathan Swinn.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.