Shoot’em with a camera–not a gun.

Shoot’em with a camera–not a gun.

That is precisely what wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen plans to do with the grizzly bear tag he recently was awarded through a lottery drawing as the largest grizzly hunt in the lower 48 states in more than 40 years is due to get underway soon, in Wyoming.

Mangelsen, an outspoken opponent of trophy hunting, was one of more than 7,000 people who applied for a chance to kill one of up to 22 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where grizzly bears are no longer listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. They had been since 1975.

Only a short time ago, Mangelsen helped begin a new movement called “Shoot’em With A Camera—Not A Gun.”

The movement sought to enlist non-hunters nationwide to put in for one of the bear hunting licenses with the intent of protesting the hunt through not killing a bear, instead, photographing them, as Mangelsen has been doing for many years near his Jackson, Wyoming home.

A wide range of conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the U.S., National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and more than 125 native tribal nations oppose the hunt.

But game wardens, the hunting industry, (of course) enthusiastic hunters, and other proponents of the hunt say thinning the grizzly population is a good thing, and that even science is on their side of the argument. Their argument is that like other species, it is perhaps bad for the bears to allow populations to run amuck.

Yellowstone grizzlies were placed on the endangered species list in 1975, when it was estimated that only 136 remained. Since then, the population has increased to around 700 and the bears are now spreading outside of the protection of the Parks.

When management was relinquished by the feds and given back to the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, more than 650,000 people submitted comments in response, the vast majority opposing removal of federal protection and allowing states to hold trophy hunts.

But federal and state biologists argue that limited hunting will not imperil the population, and that increases in numbers of bears pose a risk to humans including collisions with cars and conflicts with humans over property and livestock. And of course hunters are interested in finding their potentially grandest “trophy.”

And that is what gets Mangelsen fired up, as he makes clear in a quote from a recent article published in the Washington Post: “to rob the opportunity of millions of people from ever seeing a bear is really sad,” said Mangelsen. “Bears do not belong to the hunters. They do not belong to the bear-watchers. They belong to themselves and the landscape.”

The hunt was supposed to begin Sept. 15, lasting through Nov. 15, however there is still a chance the hunt doesn’t happen. Newspapers in Missoula, MT are reporting that a federal judge on Aug. 30 ordered Idaho and Wyoming to stall their grizzly hunts for 14 days after a lengthy hearing on removing the bears’ Endangered Species Act protections.

According to the Missoulian, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen heard four hours of arguments during the proceedings which raised more than 40 issues regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ending of ESA protection of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The hearing ended when the attorney for Wyoming offered to delay the hunt, and delisting challengers announcing they might file last-minute injunction requests to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Christensen writes in his opinion:

“The court is satisfied that a temporary restraining order is warranted. Here the threat of death to individual grizzly bears posed by the scheduled hunt is sufficient. Indeed, harm to members of endangered species is irreparable because once a member of an endangered species has been injured, the task of preserving that species becomes all the more difficult.”

Like Mangelsen, we all are wildlife photographers. We celebrate the protections that our National Parks provide for all the critters and grandiose creatures that we admire and seek out as the subjects of our photographs.

Backcountry Journeys spends a great deal of time in the Wyoming region, as well as other locales, specifically to shoot -with our cameras –  bears, so their protection is critical, in our view.

But this argument’s polarizing nature garners arguments on both sides of the issue.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you care to, please do leave a comment in the comments section of this blog post. As always, be nice.

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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