Local Movement Draws National Support

By on July 18, 2018

A group of Jackson women is leading a high profile campaign to prevent at least one hunter from obtaining a license in Wyoming’s upcoming grizzly hunt

A grizzly sow and her cub on a stroll near Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. (NPS/Jim Peaco)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Wyoming’s first grizzly hunt in 44 years moved closer to reality on July 2 when hunters logged onto Wyoming Game and Fish’s electronic licensing system to apply for tags. Thousands vied for one of 22 licenses approved by the Wyoming Game and Fish to harvest a bruin.

The deadline to apply for the grizzly hunt was July 16. Game and Fish Communications Director Renny MacKay estimated that around 7,000 people applied for a license which places people into a random lottery.

While the application process was underway, a group of Jackson women launched a campaign to save as many grizzlies as possible from the hunter’s bullet. “Shoot ‘Em With a Camera, Not a Gun” called on concerned citizens to protest the grizzly hunt by applying for a tag. If an advocate managed to beat the odds and win a tag, the women pledged to use the license to “hunt” a grizzly with a camera rather than a gun.

The goal was to overwhelm Game and Fish with hundreds of applications from advocates and to raise awareness about the impending hunt. The women launched a Facebook page and a Go Fund Me account that has gone viral. Support poured in from across the country, and a small grassroots movement transformed into an organized national crusade against the grizzly hunt.  

Support for the movement has come from unexpected corners, said co-organizer Ann Smith. Many hunters, both men and women, have joined the campaign. Hunters told Smith they hunt to provide meat for themselves and their families and “were outraged by the idea of trophy hunting,” she said.  

Notable global conservation icons also took note. Jane Goodall and Cynthia Moss have endorsed the campaign. Moss, director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, spent decades in Kenya working with elephants and fighting to ban trophy hunting of the species. Moss and Goodall applied for grizzly tags this week. “I’m an official Wyoming sportsperson now,” Moss told Planet Jackson Hole.

Hollywood eminence has also joined the campaign. Judy Hofflund, producer of the films Panic Room and Murder on the Orient Express, applied for a grizzly tag this week. She said that she has encouraged her entire family to apply for tags. Hofflund said she is moved every time she visits Jackson and has the opportunity to see bears like the famous Bear 399 and her cubs.  The thought of losing those bears is heartbreaking, she said.

The movement started out as a small meeting of concerned citizens in a Jackson home in early July. A group of five women stayed on after the meeting ended. They knew they had to act fast to save the bruin, but felt they lacked the power to do it alone. After hours of brainstorming, the women came up with the idea to apply for grizzly tags and a plan they hoped would give them a loud voice.

Lisa Robertson was one of the first women to test the waters. Robertson, a longtime grizzly advocate, said she felt compelled to do something when Wyoming Game and Fish approved a limited hunt of the grizzly in May.  

Robertson completed all the requirements necessary to apply for a grizzly tag: She attended a Wyoming Game and Fish hunter’s safety course. She learned how to properly handle a firearm and studied the culture of hunting. Yet she plans to use the skills she learned to save the life of a grizzly, rather than track and hunt one.

The other women in the group joined her in the training process to obtain a license. They each had their own motivations for joining the campaign. Heather Mycoskie, a young mother of three and a member of the National Council of the Humane Society, advocates for the grizzly on behalf of her children. “Grizzlies are beautiful, big, and majestic wild animals,” she said. “I want my children to understand the value of wildlife when they grow up.”

Deirdre Bainbridge, a Jackson attorney, has studied and photographed grizzly bears around Jackson for more than a decade. The grizzly bear campaign speaks to more than just people’s fierce sense of conservation, she said. It also reflects the growing rise of women’s involvement in politics and social justice issues.

Bainbridge provides legal advice for the organization whil Mycoskie does social media work. Ann Smith, known around town for sporting a “Grizzly Lives Matter” poster on her antique truck, hit the ground networking and fundraising.

The women’s Go Fund Me account has raised more than $25,000 meant to help protesters cover the costs of obtaining a grizzly tag if they are selected from the drawing. (Tags cost $600 for residents and $6,000 for non-residents.) After one week, their Facebook page has drawn nearly 3,000 followers.

Smith told Planet Jackson Hole she was astonished by the support. Hundreds of people from all over the country have pledged to apply for a grizzly tag and use it to save a bear, she said. “Calls have come in from Nebraska, California, Colorado, Montana—it’s hard to list the states that we didn’t receive calls from.”

If a grizzly advocate wins a tag they will enter the wilderness armed with cameras and bear spray rather than guns. Bainbridge said advocates will follow all rules and regulations set by the National Forest Service and will be accompanied by a local guide—either a member of the movement like Bainbridge who has extensive experience around grizzlies or another an outfitter.

Bainbridge emphasized protesters have no intention of disrupting other hunters. The campaign does not oppose hunting, she said. The Jackson attorney grew up in a family of hunters and has taken part in the sport. “Hunting is a useful conservation tool,” she said. “What we are opposed to is the opportunity to trophy hunt a species that is still threatened and hasn’t yet recovered.”

Wyoming Game and Fish, on the other hand, views the grizzly hunt as a tool to manage a growing population of bears rather than a trophy sport. MacKay told Planet Jackson Hole that Game and Fish underwent a “lengthy, inclusive, and transparent process” before approving the hunt. While Game and Fish considered the opinions of those who opposed the hunt, many of the public comments submitted by Wyoming residents supported a limited hunt, MacKay said.

Game and Fish is taking a “conservative approach” to the hunt, he added. The agency has already made changes to the hunting zones that reflect public opinion, closing certain areas to hunters that are popular with tourists.

Members of the public must recognize the contributions hunters and anglers across the state have made to grizzly bear conservation, MacKay said. Fees from hunting and fishing raised more than $50 million for the state’s grizzly bear recovery plan. He said the money is used to ensure opportunities continue to exist for people to photograph the grizzly bear in Northwest Wyoming.

Game and Fish is aware of the Shoot ‘Em With a Camera movement, but MacKay said the agency is not concerned. “We’re used to dealing with complications arising in draws for limited quota big game licenses,” he said.

Meanwhile, Smith said the campaign is “giving individuals across the country who oppose the hunt a chance to voice their opinion.”  

“People are fed up with being ignored and want to act, to make their voice count.”

The grizzly hunt in Wyoming is not a foregone conclusion. Native American nations and environmental groups have filed six lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to remove the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species List. The cases will be heard before U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on August 30 in Missoula, Montana. If the court rules in favor of the litigants, Wyoming’s hunt could be suspended.  

About Robert Galbreath

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