Conserving our wild legacy - protecting its future


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How many grizzly bears are in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem?

The current official estimate of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population is 695 bears with a 95% confidence interval indicating that there is a 95% chance that the estimate is within the range of 620 to 770 bears.

Conversely there is a 5% chance that the actual number of grizzlies is outside that range. That the range within the confidence interval is so wide is an indicator of the lack of accuracy inherent in the methodology.

A layman’s way of expressing this would be “the official estimate is 695 give or take 75 bears.”

The population peaked at 757 in 2014, declined to 723 in 2015 and declined again to 695 at the most recent estimate. Population estimates are released in early winter.

What claims does this lawsuit make?

Essentially, the suit claims the annual elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park cannot be justified by current science and data, is a threat to public safety and jeopardizes the grizzly bear, a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act.


  1. The National Park Service violated the Grand Teton National Park Act by failing to demonstrate that the hunt is “necessary for the purpose of proper management and protection of the elk.”
  2. By authorizing the hunt, NPS violated the National Park Service Organic Act by failing to follow the act’s requirement to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Further, GTNP has failed to make a “non-impairment” finding required by the act to demonstrate that the hunt would not impair park resources or their enjoyment.
  3. NPS violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the annual elk hunt required under NEPA.
  4. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by substantially increasing the number of grizzly bears that could be killed during elk hunting season. The FWS failed to provide adequate scientific support for the decision and also failed to follow proper procedures in the process
Are Mayo and Nelson representing an organization?

No. Each of the plaintiffs has filed this suit as individuals. However, Nelson is a board member of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, and Mayo is a former board member.

What is the National Environmental Policy Act?

NEPA is an act of Congress passed in 1969. It requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental effects of certain activities it undertakes. That analysis is undertaken through an environmental impact statement process. The EIS typically presents alternatives to the action being considered and includes extensive public participation. To determine if a full EIS is necessary for a particular activity, an environment assessment is conducted.

Who filed this lawsuit?

Jackson Hole, Wyoming citizens Tim Mayo and Kent Nelson filed this suit. Each is a longtime Jackson Hole resident, and each is a board member of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. Mayo and Nelson are photographers who frequently visit the park. Both believe hunting in the park is not only inappropriate, but also a threat to public safety and not supported by science.

Who is being sued?

Defendants named in the suit are the top administrators of the agencies responsible for allowing the elk hunt and taking or failing to take actions explained in the suit. They include National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe and Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees FWS and NPS.

What is the Endangered Species Act?

An act created by Congress in 1973 to protect imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.”

What lawsuit has been filed?

A lawsuit that questions the justification for an elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park.

What is an incidental take?

Federal authorities define incidental take narrowly to mean “kill.”

The Endangered Species Act, however, provides a much broader definition, which includes “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect.” It further defines incidental take to mean “an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering.”

Why was the grizzly placed on the Endangered Species list?

The population had plummeted in the early 1970s to levels low enough to threaten the continued existence of the species.

Will grizzlies be removed from Endangered Species Act protections?

The FWS has said it intends to recommend delisting in 2015. It is quite possible FWS will be sued to stop delisting.

Will grizzlies be hunted if they are no longer protected?

It is likely a small number will be hunted annually.

Did you present your concerns about the elk hunt to the park service and ask for changes before filing this lawsuit?

Yes. We attempted to negotiate a solution with the National Park Service and Grand Teton National Park, but authorities refused to engage. After we filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue, officials continued to ignore our concerns, thus forcing us to file the suit.

Why not just change the law that allows the elk hunt?

The Wyoming Congressional delegation approves of the current situation and would not help to change the law.

Is this lawsuit an attempt to delay removal of the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species list?

No. Efforts to remove protections of the grizzly from the ESA will not be affected by this legal action.

What is the Organic Act?

An act of Congress that created the National Park Service in 1916. It states in part that its purpose is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

What is the Grand Teton National Park Act?

An act of Congress that created the present-day park in 1950.

What is “Jeopardy”?

Within the context of wildlife management and the ESA, “jeopardy” occurs when an action is reasonably expected, directly or indirectly, to diminish a species’ numbers, reproduction, or distribution so that the likelihood of survival and recovery in the wild is appreciably reduced.

Why is hunting allowed in GTNP?

Federal legislation that created the park in 1950 includes a provision that permits elk hunting in the park. The wording of the act strongly implies that the original intent was to provide for culling operations. However, any decision regarding the hunt is made jointly with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is funded mostly by hunters, and it represents hunting interests. Therefore, it almost always insists on an annual hunt in the park.

Does any other national park allow hunting within its borders?

Yes. Rocky Mountain National Park, but the hunt there is conducted under totally different rules, regulations and methods. For example, the park uses sharpshooters to cull the herd. It also uses birth control techniques to reduce reproductive rates. RMNP also employs adverse conditioning such as rubber bullets and firecrackers to keep elk out of certain areas.

Will hunting in the park ever end?

In its 1976 master plan, the park stated that it would develop “elk management programs…aimed at ultimately eliminating the necessity for a public elk-reduction program on lands within Grand Teton National Park.” Until feeding elk on the National Elk Refuge is eliminated or dramatically reduced, hunting in the park likely will continue.

How many licenses are issued for hunting in the park?

For 2014, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department made 650 licenses available. Typically 200 – 300 elk are killed each year in the park.

How many bison are in GTNP, and how many feed on the NER?

Approximately 800 bison inhabit the park; most feed on the NER in winter.

How long is the elk-hunting season in the park?

Approximately 8 weeks?

How many grizzly bears are in GTNP?

There is no official estimate of the number of grizzlies in Grand Teton National Park, but informal estimates suggest there are about 50 bears in the park.

Isn’t this a waste of taxpayers’ money?

The federal government is spending millions of dollars a year to feed elk and administer the hunt. If both were stopped or curtailed as a result of this lawsuit, taxpayers’ money would be saved. In addition, it would result in a population of elk more in balance with the landscape.

Why was the National Elk Refuge established?

It was established in 1912 after several severe winters in which elk died because they were prevented from migrating south to their ancestral winter ranges. The commonly held belief is that thousands of elk starved to death. Reputable scientists and researchers have challenged that account, however. They say herd sizes reported to be 20,000 to 25.000 were unlikely, since local plant communities could not sustain such a large elk population. Based on what the size of the herd actually was, it is likely hundreds, and not thousands, of elk died during the most severe winters.

Did development in and around the town of Jackson prevent the elk from migrating to winter range?

Research indicates that this was not the case. Migration routes were open, but ranchers’ haystacks along the way attracted the elk, and ranchers drove them back. Ranchers advocated for the National Elk Refuge as a place to entice and stop elk before they reached the ranchers’ haystacks.

How much of the traditional elk migratory routes remain?

The 2007 Bison-Elk Management Plan for Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge claims that more than half of the old migratory routes have been lost. In fact many more than that still remain. They could be utilized if feed grounds in the Gros Ventre valley, for example, were closed and hay on small horse ranches in the area high fenced. If this happened, elk would not seek ranchers’ hay instead they would graze naturally on suitable winter range in the Gros Ventre. Elk also could re-establish migratory routes to the south if similar steps were taken. Feed grounds and the lack of high fencing appear to be the greatest impediment to allowing elk to migrate to suitable winter range.

What was the largest number of elk fed on the refuge?

11,612 elk were fed on the refuge in 1956.

Were there other reasons for establishing the National Elk Refuge and other state feed grounds?

Yes. When the NER was established, the largely self-sufficient settlers depended to a large extent on crops and animals they raised, as well as elk, to survive. Many also earned what little income they could from guiding elk hunts. So, a plentiful population of elk was highly desirable at that time.

Have elk been fed on the refuge every year since it was created in 1912?

Every year except 1977 and 1981, two years when winter was mild and feeding not necessary.

How big is the National Elk Refuge?

24,700 acres

What is the largest Jackson elk herd on record?

In 1997, the heard size totaled 18,825 elk; 10,736 were fed that year.

What is the most important reason to reduce or stop feeding elk?

Chronic wasting disease is spreading in Wyoming. This always-deadly disease eventually will reach northwest Wyoming, where the National Elk Refuge and state feed grounds are located. When animals are concentrated, disease spreads fast. The fewer elk concentrated on feed grounds, the less opportunity for disease to spread. Chronic wasting disease has the real potential to wipe out most of the elk in northwest Wyoming. Because this disease persists in soils for many years, and is extremely difficult to kill, the elk herd could indefinitely remain quite small with little chance of recovery.

Will the US Fish and Wildlife Service continue to feed elk on the refuge indefinitely?

At this point, yes, but the 2007 Bison-Elk Management Plan calls for a reduction in the number of elk to be fed each Over a 15-year period, the number of elk fed pellets will be reduced from more than 8,000 to 5,000. However, the refuge recently installed $2 million worth of irrigation equipment to provide more natural forage. That means the plan is continue concentrating and feeding on the refuge.

How will managing agencies reduce the number of elk and bison fed on the National Elk Refuge?

Through a combination of actions, including altered hunting seasons and locations, improvement of natural grazing areas to reduce reliance on artificial feeding, initiation of feeding later and ending it sooner. If grizzly and wolf populations are allowed to reach optimal size, they will play a role in properly balancing the elk population.

Do other states feed elk?

Yes. Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah feed elk. Only about 3 percent of all elk in the United States are fed. Colorado has nearly 3 times the number of elk as Wyoming, twice as many cattle and a much larger human population, with the development that brings, and does not find it necessary to feed any of its 280,000 elk.

Is the Jackson elk herd important today to the local economy?

Yes. Hunting outfitters still benefit, and hunting plays a role in the local economy. Elk still provide meat for some local residents, although it is not as necessary to survival as it once was. Today, the elk herd is more important to the tourism economy than it was for the economy 100 years ago.

What effect has the herd size had on the GYA habitat?

Before wolves returned to the GYA and began to prey on elk, forcing them to move around, many areas had been overgrazed. Elk ate willow and aspen shoots before they had a chance to grow. Willow and aspen provide habitat for a host of wildlife, from beaver and fish, to many species of birds. Without just these two types of vegetation, the refuge is an overgrazed, unbalanced habitat.

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