The shooting of a large male grizzly that was left dead about 30 yards off the North Fork Highway early Monday near Cody has sent waves of anger through the community, a local wildlife photographer said.
“That bear can’t die in vain,” Amy Gerber of Cody told Cowboy State Daily. “The very few people who are so vehemently hateful toward grizzlies, that doesn’t represent us. That’s not Cody, Wyoming.
“It seems like there’s this perception that people here hate wildlife, and particularly predators, and that’s not true. The outcry over this bear being killed is strong.”
Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department told Cowboy State Daily that there’s an active investigation into the possible illegal killing of a grizzly bear near Cody, but no details could be released as of Tuesday afternoon.
Gerber is a retired schoolteacher who runs Cub Creek Photography. This spring, she’s made daily trips along the North Fork highway — U.S. Highway 14-16-20 between Cody and the East Gate of Yellowstone Park — to photograph wildlife, including grizzlies.
There were rumors circulating early Monday that a grizzly had been struck by a car along the highway, Gerber said.
But when she was returning to Cody from her morning photo session, she said she saw Game and Fish vehicles parked along highway about 14 miles outside of Yellowstone. There were wardens apparently “scouring” the area for evidence near a grizzly carcass, which was about 30 yards off the road, she said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the bear was shot,” she said. “And there’s zero evidence of a roadkill in the area. There’s no skid marks or shrapnel from a car.”
Gerber added that she’s fairly certain the carcass was that of a large, dark-colored boar (adult male grizzly) that she and others had spotted recently as more bears start to emerge from their winter dens.
“This was a big bear,” she said. “I’m guessing at least 500 pounds. If it had been struck by a car, especially the way cars are built these days, there would have been car parts all over the highway.”
Feds Are On The Case
Because grizzlies remain under federal jurisdiction in Wyoming, the USFWS is leading the investigation and Game and Fish can’t comment on it, Dan Thompson, Game and Fish large carnivore specialist, told Cowboy State Daily.
The case is being investigated as a possible illegal killing, but no other details could be released Tuesday, USFWS Special Agent Richard Gamba told Cowboy State Daily.
“The investigation just began yesterday,” he said, adding that confirmation of the sex and estimated age and size of the slain bear couldn’t be officially confirmed by the agency.
Julie Argyle, who runs the Wild Love Images wildlife photography site, posted photos of a large bear carcass on Facebook, stating that the images were of the bear that had been shot Monday between Cody and Yellowstone.
Argyle stated that “there had been no reports” of anybody having to shoot a grizzly bear in self-defense in the area.
“If that is the case, then whoever did this did it just for fun,” Argyle wrote in her post. “Once again, a beautiful animal that was doing nothing wrong was killed at the hands of humankind for no apparent reason.”
Steep Penalties For Killing A Grizzly
If a suspect in the grizzly’s killing is caught, they could be charged through the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gamba said. The severity of the penalties would be up the prosecutor filing the charges.
The maximum penalty for illegally killing a grizzly is a $50,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
People may legally kill grizzlies in Wyoming only in clear-cut cases of self-defense, Gamba said. Anybody who kills a grizzly in self-defense must report it immediately and be prepared to prove their case to investigators.
“It’s usually pretty easy to determine when a case was self-defense,” he said.
With investigators unable to give out any details, it could be quite a while before the public learns why the North Fork grizzly was shot, Gerber said.
“As to the reason why the bear was shot, I don’t think anybody knows at this time,” she said, adding it might have been an accident, or “is it a case of deliberate, hateful poaching?”
If it’s the latter, “I hope whoever did this is prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law,” Gerber said.