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Petition: Bear Spray Requirements Needed for Hunter, Grizzly Safety

Encounters with grizzlies are rare, but increase during hunting season, as bears preparing for hibernation are drawn to innards left by hunters after field-stripping game. (Pixabay)
Encounters with grizzlies are rare, but increase during hunting season, as bears preparing for hibernation are drawn to innards left by hunters after field-stripping game. (Pixabay)
April 9, 2019

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Conservation groups are asking state agencies in Wyoming and Idaho to require hunters to carry bear spray in grizzly bear habitat.

Between 2015 and 2017, 146 grizzlies were killed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The vast majority were encounters with hunters. Kristin Combs, executive director at Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said while grizzly populations have been slowly expanding over the past 20 years, bears still are struggling to expand their range and connect with populations in the Mountain West.

"However, if we keep having these high numbers of mortalities year after year after year, we are not going to see recovery, we're not going to see that genetic connectivity between populations,” Combs said.

Encounters with grizzlies are rare, but Combs said more conflicts happen during hunting season, in part because bears are drawn to gut piles left by hunters after field-stripping game. Skeptics of the proposal say hunters are not about to drop their guns and reach for spray if they encounter a grizzly in the wild.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and studies published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, bear spray has been 98 percent effective at preventing human injuries during bear encounters. Firearms are only 50 percent effective.

Combs said the proposal is similar to requiring seat belts in cars or a life jacket when rafting.

"People tend to be kind of bad shots when bears are charging them, in a high-adrenaline situation,” she said. “If they have that bear spray on their person, that at least gives them a chance to have some sort of secondary method of protection for themselves and for the bears."

Combs noted Yellowstone and Glacier national parks already require staff to carry bear spray when working in the field. And Wyoming OSHA encourages guides and other workers in grizzly territory to carry and be trained in the use of bear spray as a matter of workplace safety.

The Wyoming Fish and Game Department has 60 days to respond to the petition submitted by conservation groups.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY