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Park Service prevails over photographer in traffic dispute at site of wounded, famous grizzly bear

A federal judge found Mangelsen guilty of obstructing the flow of traffic on U.S. Highway 26/191 in Grand Teton National Park.

Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen discusses his dispute with Grand Teton National Park over a moving violation at his home in Moose. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

By Mike Koshmrl

An extraordinary, costly defense of a minor moving violation in Grand Teton National Park fell flat for Jackson Hole wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who was found guilty Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman issued a 10-page written verdict, explaining that the National Park Service had met its burden of proof to convict Mangelsen of “operating a vehicle so slowly as to interfere with the normal flow of traffic.” Videos and testimony made it “clear” that the acclaimed photographer went to the location where Grizzly 610 had been struck by a vehicle and injured, the judge wrote. 

“He drove back and forth past the site at a very slow rate of speed and in doing so caused other traffic to slow behind him,” Carman wrote. “He did so for the specific purpose of slowing the traffic in the vicinity of grizzly bear #610 and the cubs.

“While Defendant believes that his actions were justified based upon his concerns for the safety of the bears,” the judge added, “he did in fact obstruct traffic.” 

In an all-day trial in early June, Jackson attorney Ed Bushnell argued that Teton Park rangers were biased against Mangelsen and exploiting a “subjective” statute. In the photographer’s defense, he pulled law enforcement officer Brett Timm’s bodycam footage and played it in the federal courtroom to scrutinize what the officer claimed to have observed. 

An injured Grizzly 610 recovered from being struck by a vehicle traveling Highway 26 on the afternoon of Oct. 9 2023 in Grand Teton National Park. (Tom Mangelsen/Images of Nature)

Timm was roughly 700 yards away from Mangelsen at the time of the violation, the footage showed. The officer was talking with another motorist in a highway-side pullout and facing a different direction. 

“There’s no way Mr. Timm could have seen four cars stacked behind Mr. Mangelsen at the time he said he did,” Bushnell said during the trial. “It just couldn’t have happened.”

Reviewing the body camera footage, Carman saw evidence supporting Timm’s contention that he witnessed Mangelsen significantly slow down with four trailing vehicles. 

“During this portion of the video, you can see by Ranger Timm’s reflection on the side of the vehicle that he is looking around a great deal, but the camera does not reflect his movement,” his verdict reads. “This supports the Ranger’s testimony that he observed Defendant’s driving action while in conversation with other drivers.” 

Longtime Jackson Hole wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who owns the Images of Nature gallery, lines up a shot of grizzly bear 399 and her four cubs in 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Mangelsen, who owns the Images of Nature Gallery in Jackson, estimated he spent about $20,000 defending the case. 

Carman scheduled Mangelsen’s sentencing for June 27. 

Mangelsen told WyoFile on Wednesday that he will appeal after sentencing.

“I did exactly the right thing a person with common sense and a brain would do under the circumstances,” the 78-year-old photographer said. “They were not there to take care of bears. They were there to get me, it’s all they can think about.”

Update: This story has been updated to include Tom Mangelsen’s plans to appeal. —Ed.


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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