A debate continues on the editorial page of the Jackson Hole News and Guide this week. It surrounds a number of issues effecting grizzly bears and certain Grand Teton National Park policies. Kicked off by wildlife photographers, it was featured here on K2 Radio last week in an interview with Jackson Hole Wildlife Photographer, Tom Mangelson. Mangelson takes issue with a number of park policies.  In this next part of a continuing series, K2 Radio's, Karen Snyder, speaks with Grand Teton's Senior Wildlife Specialist who explains the yearly elk reduction program in the park,  a program Mangelson says creates a safety risk for both humans and bears.

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The Elk reduction program in Grand Teton National Park is part of the original 1950s legislation establishing the parks expansion. That enabling legislation, as its called, includes concessions allowing for the annual hunt that functions as part of herd management. Here's Wildlife specialist Steve Cain .

'Folks concerned with the expansion of Grand Teton National Park lobbied very hard for this inclusion in the legislation so that we could continue hunting as a tool to manage the population after the park was expanded."

The program, managed in conjunction with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, sets yearly quotas that Cain says have varied dramatically over the years.

"In 1964, for example, there were three thousand permits issued. This last year there were about 800 permits issued. The reason the numbers vary  considerably relates to the dynamics of the elk herd itself."

Cain agrees that grizzly bears are habituated to the hunt as a source of food and he says that scientists believe that that high quality food source is a good thing despite the risk it poses for bear/human conflict.

He says they take steps to mitigate the possibility of conflict that include requiring hunters to carry bear spray, " We do not allow back country camping. We provide front country camps that include bear proof garbage containers and meat racks to hang their game out of the reach of bears. We do not allow artificial calls. There have been a number of hunter grizzly bear conflicts throughout the eco-system when hunters are using calls, because they're basically calling grizzly bears to themselves.  And just the fact that its a relatively small area and most of the hunt area is easily accessible from the road system. We get very few carcasses that are left out overnight and this also greatly reduces the chances of having a bear claim the carcass and then having a hunter conflict, for example, hours later or perhaps even the next day."

The hunt area remains open to visitors and Cain says its heavily staffed by rangers.

Traditionally the hunt allowed for taking both bulls and cows, but he says that's changed over the years.

"In the last twenty years the park has been making a concerted effort to bring down the number of Any Elk Permits, those permits that allow the harvest of bulls. For example, we've gone from 40 percent Any Elk Tags in the reduction program in 2002, to 18 percent in 2010 and in 2011 we're going to 10 percent and in 2012 we're going to zero.

Population of the Jackson elk herd is currently around 12,000 animals, which Cain says, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department considers as the target population.

We'll hear more from the Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Study Team Leader coming up later this week.

This is a related story running today (July 28th) in the Jackson Hole News and Guide; http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/article.php?art_id=7556