Almost everyone believes
the statistics that show using bear spray in a
confrontation with a grizzly is a very effective
tool, but opinions are divided on whether
or not it should be regulated by a new law
A wildlife conservation coalition is petitioning
the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission
to require hunters in the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly country to
carry bear spray.
The coalition’s April 4 letter to Wyoming
and Idaho wildlife commissioners points to
what they see as an increasing number of
grizzly bear in conflicts with fall hunters and
their guides. It compares rifle shots to “a dinner
bell” for grizzlies that expect to find a
steaming gut pile.
The petition states that “encounters between
hunters and grizzlies too often prove
to be injurious for both people and bears,”
and while those are uncommon, they result
in injuries or death for people and grizzlies.
While guides and hunters are usually
armed, the coalition stated that bear spray is
98-percent effective at deterring an attacking
bear. Further, it said, firearms are only
50-percent effective at preventing human injuries
during a confrontation.
Western Watersheds Project claims, “There
is still a lot of work to be done before grizzly
bear conservation can be called a success. Reducing
bear mortalities and human injury by
requiring hunters to carry bear spray is an obvious
and effective policy with no downside.”
However, agencies consider the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear program
to have met “recovery” criteria of
500 bears for well more than a decade, with
Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service estimating a GYE population of
at least 700 grizzlies.
After FWS delisted GYE grizzlies and
Game and Fish planned a hunting season in
2018, an Idaho district judge ruled they should
be placed back on the Endangered Species
List. That ruling is being appealed in San
Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
As the GYE grizzly population continues
to increase outside its demographic monitoring
area, so do human conflicts with bears.
Be ‘Bear Wise’
Wyoming Game and Fish Communications
Director Rebekah Fitzgerald pointed
out not everyone is comfortable relying on
“The Department wants people to use the
tool they are most confident using to defend
themselves,” she said. “While this includes
bear spray, we recognize it may not be the
most effective option in every circumstance.
There is no substitute for being prepared
in bear country – we encourage people to
remain bear aware and have a good understanding
of bear behavior to avoid conflicts.”
Game and Fish presents annual programs
around the state to help reduce human conflicts
with the large carnivores and these
dates are being set now, she added.
“We have bolstered the Bear Wise webpage
and will be posting the dates there,”
Coming at the issue from another angle,
the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association
informed the Interagency Grizzly
Bear Study Team of its plan to work toward
“workplace safety” by training and requiring
guides to carry bear spray in grizzly
WYOGA President Lee Livingston, also
a Cody outfitter, said at the recent Bozeman
meeting the association is working with the
Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health
“We’re going to come up with a standard
protocol for grizzly bear training, bear-spray
training for all of our employees,” he said.
“I’ve done it for years and I’ve required my
guides and hunters to have bear spray with
them. We’re going to take it one step further
as an association an come up with some sort
of standard protocol for the industry and
possibly the hunting public.”
Their main concern is for their employees’
safety, Livingston told the group.
An Idaho Fish and Game supervisor cautioned
the association about singling out one
activity or user group over another.
Rule or law?
Wyoming Rep. Albert Sommers, a Pinedale
rancher and president of the Upper
Green Cattle Association, has two perspectives
on the issue and both conclude carrying
bear spray is a matter of personal choice.
As a lawmaker, he is not comfortable
with legislation that would require hunters
to carry bear spray.
“I would not support legislation that requires
hunters to carry bear spray or any
other user group,” Sommers said. “I believe
that is an individual decision.”
Upper Green permittees in the association
– which counts many livestock and
grizzly conflicts a year – advise their range
riders to carry bear spray and many do. But
that is also their choice, Sommers said. “Our
association recommends that riders carry
bear spray, and we buy them bear spray, but
the decision is theirs.”