Coalition asks G&F to require hunter bear spray

Wyoming Game and Fish courtesy photo

Outfitters also seek increased workplace safety

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

or rule.

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

bear spray.

“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,”

Fitzgerald said.




Workplace safety

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.”


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