Interagency law enforcement personnel responded to multiple incidents on the Gros Ventre River, east of Kelly, Wyoming, early this morning as a number of individuals attempted to reach Bridger-Teton National Forest lands when winter closures were lifted at 12:00 am.
Antler collectors often stage on lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service prior to the spring access, attempting to reach the Bridger–Teton National Forest where antler collection is allowed.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Law Enforcement Officer David Bonham, at least two parties were involved in boating accidents as they attempted to cross the Gros Ventre River. The first incident occurred when a boat carrying five people capsized in the river after leaving the north shore. Three of the occupants were able to reach the south shore on their own, while the other two were swept downstream. They were rescued via a raft operated by two Grand Teton National Park Rangers trained in Search and Rescue functions. The victims were taken to a staging area on the north shore of the river where one Jackson Hole Fire/EMS and one Grand Teton National Park ambulance were on standby. Both individuals, suffering primarily from exposure, declined transport.
The three other occupants of the boat built a warming fire when they reached dry land. They later attempted to return to the north shore via the same boat. During their return, the boat again capsized. They were able to self–rescue without injuries.
Law enforcement also reported that a horse was fatally lost in the river, though the owner of the horse and events leading up to the accident have not yet been determined. Park rangers are looking for the carcass this morning to mitigate the potential for it becoming a bear attractant.
Additional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife officers are detailed to the National Elk Refuge for the period leading up to and during the May 1 opener. The Bridger–Teton National Forest also has additional staff members available for public information, safety, and law enforcement when the closure is lifted. Interagency cooperation between the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, Bridger–Teton National Forest, Wyoming Game & Fish Department, and Teton County, Wyoming, as well as the additional staffing, played a critical role in the immediate response and successful outcomes related to this morning’s incidents.
People recreating in areas that have recently been opened should be aware of common spring hazards such as swift water, bear and other wildlife activity, and road and trail conditions that may impact safe travel.