A Jackson wildlife photographer was subjected to an unfair “online dog-piling” because people misjudged a photo he posted on Facebook of Teton Park’s Grizzly 610 next to his truck, another photographer said.
“None of you guys (making disparaging comments) were there, I was,” Kari Godfrey of Minnesota told Cowboy State Daily early Thursday.
It Was A Telephoto Shot
A photo Geoffrey Tipton posted in the “Toyota Tundra Nation” caused a flurry of negative comments from people claiming Tipton acted foolishly by getting out of his truck to photograph the bear next to it.
Tipton defended himself in comment threads, stating that he has plenty of experience with Grizzly 610, which was the bear in the photo, and didn’t take any unnecessary risks. He said the photo was taken from a distance, and long after he’d gotten out of his truck during a “bear jam” caused by Grizzly 610 and her cubs.
Grizzly 610 is one of Wyoming’s most famous bears. She’s an offspring of superstar Grizzly 399.
She Thinks His Story Checks Out
Godfrey said she thinks Tipton’s account of events checks out.
She said she was there nearly the entire time during the same “bear jam” in Teton Park early May 27.
She said hasn’t met Tipton in person, and doesn’t recall seeing him directly that morning.
However, she said hers and Tipton’s recollections match up as having been of the same bear jam. And she said she never saw anybody get too close to Grizzly 610 and her three yearling cubs.
Godfrey added that she and Tipton have since connected online and have determined that they both took photos during the same incident. She also shared photos she took that day with Cowboy State Daily. They show scenes similar to those in photos Tipton shared with Cowboy State Daily earlier this week.
She surmises that Tipton was probably in the same group of people that she was in, uphill and at least 100 yards away from the bears, using telephoto equipment to get pictures.
Didn’t See Anybody Approach Grizzlies
Godfrey said she was about the fourth person on the scene when the bear jam started at about 5:45 a.m.
Grizzly 610 and her cubs were apparently hanging around the area because they were feeding on some nearby elk calf carcasses, she said.
The jam lasted about two hours and drew a large crowd and numerous vehicles, but nobody tried anything stupid, she said.
“I never saw anybody, male or female, go anywhere near the bears,” she said.
She added that she carries a radio scanner during her frequent visits to Teton and Yellowstone parks to watch and photograph wildlife, and stupid behavior almost always kicks off scanner traffic.
“It would have been on the scanner if anybody had done anything foolish or dangerous,” she said.
Wildlife Brigade Was ‘Awesome’
During exchanges in Facebook comment threads, Tipton stated that a Park Service ranger and wildlife safety volunteers were present when he took his photos.
Godfrey said she doesn’t recall seeing a ranger, but said several members of the volunteer “Wildlife Brigade” were there, wearing bright yellow vests. She said they did an excellent job of crowd control.
Park Service rules state that people outside of vehicles aren’t allowed any closer than 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from all other wildlife.
Wildlife Brigade members used rangefinders to make sure the bears were at least 100 yards away from the people that morning, she said.
“They (the volunteers) conducted themselves well and they were effective. They were awesome,” she said.
Wildlife Brigade members moved the crowd as needed — at one point making sure the bears could cross the road safely.
People Were Too Quick To Judge
Godfrey said that after the controversy over Tipton’s grizzly-and-truck photo started blowing up on social media, she reached out to him over Facebook Messenger. She said she felt bad for Tipton because, having been there herself, she thought that people had judged him falsely.
She added that she understands the strong emotional reactions in some of the comment threads, because people are passionate about the grizzles. But it was unfair for people to jump on Tipton.
“Some of those comments from people, they’re so cruel, so mean,” she said.
“This has been hard on him (Tipton),” she said. “He is passionate about photography. I told him, ‘You can’t let your joy be stolen by people who don’t know what happened.’ The reason we take and post photos is to spread joy and be informative about these bears, and I think that is what Geoffrey is all about too.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.