I love bears. They’re without a doubt my favorite animal to photograph and I’ll go very far out of my way if I know I’m going to get the opportunity to get some new shots of one. I’ll sit and wait for hours just to get a glimpse of a bear. Whether black or grizzly, it’s an animal that has always fascinated me and there’s nothing I love more than seeing them in their natural environment playing, eating or even just meandering to find a spot to lie down.
I will not, however, be returning to Moose-Wilson Road this season to photograph the bears, a spot where I’m 100% sure on any given day at this time of year I can easily get new shots. Why? Simply because the disrespect for both other photographers and more importantly, the bears themselves, from other photographers is getting out of hand. For most of the day, there are rangers there making up for the lack of common sense that most people seem to have left at home. In the mornings, however, rangers haven’t yet arrived and it can get pretty ugly. My own experience yesterday morning was what forced me to decide to not go back there: photographers with 500mm lenses standing within 20 feet of a bear and ignoring everybody’s suggestions to move back; cars parked in the middle of an already narrow road thus blocking traffic; people running after bears; etc, etc. I’ve even been told that frustrations have led to pushing and shoving between some photographers. In another instance last week, a mother sprayed her kids’ shoes with bear spray, told them the bear couldn’t hurt them and then encouraged them to poke the bear with a stick. When the bear casually walked back into the trees, the kids then began throwing sticks in the bear’s direction.
The point I’m trying to make is that the level of disrespect for an animal that I truly love has gotten to the point that I don’t want to go see them anymore because I am truly afraid for the bears of that area. Should one of those instances go wrong and someone gets attacked (and given what I’ve seen it’s only a matter of time), the bear will be put down by the park service when clearly, with the crowd around it, the bear was only following its natural instincts and humans would be the ones to blame. It wouldn’t matter though. If it did matter, people would have learned a long time ago to give bears their space and respect them. It’s clear to me that most people visiting the area don’t though, photographers or not, and will clearly do whatever they want in order to get as close a shot as they can simply to impress their friends. I’ve talked with other locals who have also come to the same conclusion about not going near there anymore. It’s too hard to see and it’s become apparent that the only ones that really seem to care are the people that live in this area, though I’m sure there’s an exception or two out there.
Earlier last night, I saw a volunteer ranger at the grocery store and with it still fresh on my mind, we got to talking about the ordeal and I suggested that while I’d hate to ruin it for everybody, it seemed that the best course of action would be to simply close off all parking areas around there and have a ranger out there to keep traffic moving and not allow anybody to stop. This is the only solution I see to keep the bears safe and acclimated to their natural environment so they can eat all they want before winter without the stress of having a crowd of humans tracing their every step and/or blocking their paths to where they want to go. I can only hope the staff at Grand Teton National Park reads this and agrees.