WASHINGTON (CN) - Elk hunting in Grand Teton National Park is noisy and dangerous, and this year's hunt was approved illegally, two nature photographers say in a federal lawsuit.
Wyoming residents Timothy Mayo and Kent Nelson sued the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday, claiming the park's Elk Reduction Program is not disruptive and unjustified.
Nelson describes himself as a professional photographer, Mayo as an enthusiast.
They claim that the National Park Service in May 2014 this year approved the harvest of 300 elk without properly determining if the animal's numbers have recovered enough to support another hunt.
"In making its decision to approve the hunt this year, as in years past, NPS did not issue any finding allowing the hunt - at the same level approved in prior years - was in fact necessary for the proper management and protection of the elk as required by the Grand Teton (National Park) Act," the complaint states.
Grand Teton National Park spokesman Andrew White told Courthouse News he could not comment specifically on the lawsuit, but that the hunting is needed to help keep the elk dispersed.
"The elk winter at the National Elk Refuge, where they are fed," White said. "It helps reduce winter mortality. Elk have migratory patterns and learn different habits. They are reactive and know where they are being hunted. If they are not hunted in the (Grand Teton National) Park, they will use that area more, instead of being dispersed into other areas."
Park biologists could not be reached immediately for comment on hunting's effects on elk herds.
White says there are approximately 11,000 elk, including the Valley of Jackson (Jackson's Hole) herd, that migrate between the Park and south Yellowstone.
The Elk Reduction Program includes two separate hunting areas to the north of the Park, near Yellowstone, and to the south.
"There are 650 elk tags assigned in the combined areas with a quota of about one-third (harvested)," White said. "So far, 615 tags have been issued. The success rate is usually about one-third because not everyone shoots an elk. Last year there were about 200 taken."
Mayo, whose father once worked for the National Park Service, moved to Jackson, Wyo. almost 50 years ago and has been an avid photographer of elk and grizzly bear for more than 25 years.
He says in the lawsuit that "the noise from gunshots and the commotion caused by the hunt participants scares the elk and much of the other wildlife [he] wishes to photograph ... Rather than observing the Jackson elk in their natural splendor and engaging in natural behavior, Mr. Mayo has, instead, all too often witnessed these animals cruelly and senselessly wounded by ERP participants shooting wildly into the herds."
Mayo said he doesn't appreciate running into "gut piles" either, and that he was almost shot.
"On one occasion, while taking photographs, Mr. Mayo's life was endangered when a hunt participant carelessly shot towards U.S. Highway 26 where Mr. Mayo was standing, and several stray bullets hit the ground within several feet of [him]," according to the complaint.
It adds: "It is also hazardous for Mr. Mayo to drive through the Park during hunting season because, although there are technically setback limits in place prohibiting shooting within a certain distance of roads, these limits are regularly disregarded by ERP hunters."
Mayo claims some of the collateral damage includes the 2012 incidental "take" of an adult male grizzly bear, which is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. He said the bears are seen in greater numbers in the Park during hunting season because they seek out gut piles for easy food sources. These instances are considered "take by harassment - i.e. an act or omission that creates a likelihood of injury to wildlife by significantly disrupting normal behavioral patterns, including feeding."
Mayo and Nelson allege violations of the Grand Teton National Park Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. They seek a court order preventing the NPS and the FWS from approving any more hunts until they have "fully complied with all of their obligations" under the acts.
They are represented by Eric Glitzenstein and Katherine Meyer, with Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal, of Washington, D.C.
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