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Wyoming black bear hunter accused of killing protected grizzly near highway into Yellowstone

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming hunter faces up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine if convicted of killing a protected grizzly bear he allegedly claims he mistook for a legal-to-hunt black bear outside Yellowstone National Park.

The male grizzly weighing about 530 pounds (240 kilograms) drew a lot of attention from drivers after its death May 1 near U.S. 14-16-20, the eastern approach into Yellowstone.

Patrick M. Gogerty, of Cody, turned himself in early the next morning, Wyoming Game and Fish Department game warden Travis Crane wrote in an affidavit filed in Park County Circuit Court.

By then, rumors about the dead bear were circulating far and wide.

“Gogerty should have turned himself in immediately,” Crane wrote.

Grizzlies in the Yellowstone region of southern Montana, eastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming are a federally protected species. Killing one without a good reason, such as self defense, can bring tough penalties under state and federal law.

Gogerty is charged under Wyoming law with killing a grizzly bear without a license, a misdemeanor. Along with the jail time and hefty fine, he would face having to pay as much as $25,000 in restitution if convicted.

Gogerty, who is scheduled for an arraignment Friday in Park County Circuit Court, couldn't be reached for comment. He had no listed phone number and no attorney in court records who might comment on his behalf.

Black bears are typically smaller and darker than grizzly bears. Large black bears with brownish coloring, and small grizzly bears with darker coloring, sometimes get mistaken for the other species, however.

Gogerty went hunting on the day the regular black bear hunting season opened in areas west of Cody. He first saw the grizzly about 100 yards (90 meters) off the highway, according to the affidavit filed Thursday in Circuit Court.

At first, he was confident that the bear he shot at seven times was a black bear because the animal didn't have a grizzly's characteristically humped back, he allegedly told Crane, the game warden.

“When Gogerty went up to the bear and saw the bear's claws, the pads and the head of the bear, he realized it was a grizzly bear,” Crane wrote in the affidavit.

The bear had been shot at least four times, the affidavit alleges.

Hunters and others on Yellowstone's outskirts kill grizzlies in self-defense or in cases of mistaken identity fairly often — about six times per year, on average, from 2015 to 2020, according to researchers.

Such encounters typically occur on private land or remote areas, far from the public eye.

As many as 50,000 grizzlies once roamed the western U.S., far more than today. Still, they are considered a conservation success story with rebounding numbers in Yellowstone and other pockets in the lower 48 states.

Grizzly-human encounters have increased as the Yellowstone region's grizzly population has grown as much as tenfold, to as many as 1,000 animals, since the 1970s.