Photographer Loses $20K Legal Battle Over Traffic Ticket for Wounded Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

A wildlife photographer has lost an extraordinary $20,000 legal battle over a traffic ticket that came about after he slowed his car to check on a wounded grizzly bear.

On Tuesday, acclaimed wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen was found guilty of a minor moving violation in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, by the U.S. District Court of Wyoming.

Mangelsen, who is based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, estimates that he will have spent over $20,000 fighting the $150 traffic ticket, according to a report by Oil City News.

The costly legal battle stems from the incidents that unfolded on the afternoon and evening of October 9, 2023, in Grand Teton National Park.

On that date, Mangelson saw a grizzly bear known as Grizzly 610 lying wounded on the side of Highway 26 in Grand Teton National Park after the roadside bear was seemingly struck by a vehicle. He apparently took photos of the wounded bear, sharing them with Oil City News.

The 78-year-old photographer is well-known for his images of the famous grizzly bears of Grand Teton National Park — including Grizzly 399 and her cubs. Grizzly 610 is one of 399’s cubs.

On October 9, Mangelson allegedly drove slowly by the injured Grizzly 610 at least four times that day.

The photographer supposedly slowed down traffic to get eyes on and check on the cub. After barely moving for hours while injured, the grizzly bear reportedly bounced back quickly and found her feet while seemingly healthy.

However, that night, Mangelson was given a $150 ticket for obstructing traffic.

According to the eyewitness accounts of two rangers who were on the scene, the photographer slowed down to 5 mph near Grizzly 610’s location while holding up four other vehicles.

The rangers felt Mangelsen’s driving could cause a “bear jam” — a term for when traffic builds and people amass because a bruin is in sight.

‘A Terrible Injustice’

However, instead of paying the traffic ticket, Mangelsen fought the violation in court last week and spent tens of thousands of dollars defending his case.

“I’ll spend probably $20,000 by the time I’m done,” Mangelsen told Oil City News.

“If I get found guilty for slowing down and stopping when the bears are in the road, it’d be a terrible injustice.”

But, according to local Wyoming news outlet WyoFile, a federal judge found Mangelsen guilty of obstructing the flow of traffic on U.S. Highway 26/191 in Grand Teton National Park this week.

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.”

Judge Carman says that videos and testimony made it “clear” that the photographer went to the location where Grizzly 610 had been struck by a vehicle and injured.

“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,” Judge Carman writes in his verdict.

“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, he did in fact obstruct traffic.”

Judge Carman has scheduled Mangelsen’s sentencing for June 27. However, Mangelsen told the local news outlet 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,” Mangelsen tells WyoFile.

“They were not there to take care of bears. They were there to get me, it’s all they can think about.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.