Another person has been killed by a grizzly. This latest attack occurred near the border of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, northeast of Jackson Hole, Wyo. on Sept. 14. This time the victim was a hunting guide. His name is Mark Uptain. He was 37 years old and a father of five.
As this was being written, a judge for the second time had delayed the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s plans to have its first hunting season for grizzlies in more than 40 years. Last year, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior removed some of the grizzlies in the Lower 48 from the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This allowed Wyoming to launch a hunt under the watch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Animal-welfare activists sued and got a judge to delay the hunt.
The threat of death to individual people wasn’t considered relevant to this case.
Uptain had returned on horseback with his client, Corey Chubon of Florida, to retrieve meat from an elk Chubon had killed. The pair of grizzlies, a mother and adult cub, didn’t attack because they found the elk carcass and were protecting the meat, say authorities. These bears hadn’t fed on the kill. They simply attacked after Uptain and Chubon returned to pack out the meat.
Many of the details of the attack are still unclear. According to Chubon, who managed to escape with minor injuries, the sow first attacked him. Uptain came to his defense with bear spray. The bear then attacked Uptain. Chubon retrieved a handgun but wasn’t able to fire a shot. The bear got him before he could, but then returned to Uptain. The grown cub reportedly didn’t attack the men. Some press reports say Chubon tossed his handgun to Uptain as Uptain was being attacked. Chubon then fled the scene as Uptain was dragged away by the sow.
While Chubon was flown to St. John’s Medical Center for medical care, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue dispatched a 20-person team to the area near Terrace Mountain. They found Uptain dead about a quarter-mile from the original attack site.
Wildlife officials soon would shoot and kill the sow. They also trapped and euthanized her adult cub.
Meanwhile, a dozen hunters who’d drawn grizzly tags in Wyoming were waiting for their chance. ESA restrictions were put in place in the Lower 48 in 1975 to protect a dwindling number of bears. USA Today recently reported: “Hunters killed most of them in the 19th and early 20th centuries, leaving about 1,700 in all of the Lower-48 states, primarily in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.” This is either an ignorant or a purposely misleading statement, as it’s only accurate if you count those filling federal bounties or directly working for the government as hunters. The truth is federal policies wiped out the bears—and wolves and cougars at the time as well.
Now hunters are waiting for their chance to control the healthy and growing grizzly bear population. Hunters tend to kill the most visible game animals they legally can that are closest to human habitation. This means hunters in Wyoming would most likely kill the bears that have the least fear of humans. This is one way game managers can get the public involved in a beneficial and financially useful way to reduce human-bear conflicts.
As it is, wildlife officials in Wyoming last year killed at least 14 grizzly bears that had attacked livestock or threatened humans. Hunters killed another nine bears that were threatening them, and at least one bear was killed by a car, according to official records. The problem bears are more often the bears that have moved close to areas inhabited by people. This again makes a hunt a good wildlife-management tool.
Having a hunting season is “not being bloodthirsty,” said hunting guide Sy Gilliland, a Wyoming hunting industry spokesman. “The fact of the matter is that we need to do something for the benefit of the bear. We can’t turn the clock back and remove the people from Wyoming. The bear is overflowing. He just needs to have his number trimmed back for the benefit of the species overall.”
Having a hunting season isn’t a complete solution, but plenty of evidence shows that a hunted population of bears tends to be more fearful of humans. Anyone who has seen a bear out in the open and ignoring people in a national park has seen how not having a hunting season can influence bear behavior (or elk, deer and wolf behavior for that matter). Those same species, if encountered in an area where they are hunted, are a lot more wary of humans.
Though such behavior is difficult to measure scientifically, wildlife managers have found that making sure predators have a healthy fear of people reduces attacks on people. Wildlife officials, of course, still need professionals to deal with individual problem bears and to educate the public about not leaving food sources out that attract bears and more. But hunting is an important part of a good management plan.
The National Park Service has this advice for staying safe in grizzly country. It’s not bad advice. But bear attacks hardly follow the same playbook. Bears are individuals and a hiker or hunter has no way of knowing what a bear’s history or personality is. This again is why hunters need to be a part of the solution to keep people safe—and to help prevent grizzlies from attaining an even more gruesome reputation than they deserve as attacks increase.
AGoFundMeaccount has been set up for Uptain’s family. As this was being written it had already reached $141,218.
Editor’s Note:The NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum and NRAHLF.org In response to the culture war on American hunters, in late 2014 the NRA launched the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum (HLF) to address the cultural, political, demographic and technological challenges facing the future of hunters, hunting and wildlife conservation in the 21st century. The HLF brings together dedicated hunters who have distinguished themselves as leaders in their professions, communities and in the field as the collective hunting community goes on the offense and works together to save hunting's future. Launched in July 2016, the NRA HLF website monitors issues impacting the future of hunting and wildlife conservation on the state, national and international levels and shares the stories of hunters and hunting and where our hard-earned dollars go. Without hunting, there would be no conservation! Visit NRAHLF.org for all of the above and share the story links.