Animal rights groups filed a petition last week that would require Wyoming and Idaho hunters to carry bear spray. Their hope is that more aggressive grizzly bear lives will be spared if hunters defend themselves with bear spray over a gun. While bear spray is recommended by most states in bear country, there is no law requiring it to be carried.

The groups named in the petition are The Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Western Watersheds Project, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They released the following:

Groups ask Wyoming and Idaho authorities to require that hunters carry bear spray in grizzly territory

A coalition of organizations today submitted petitions proposing rules to require hunters in grizzly bear habitat to carry bear spray. The proposals follow years of high grizzly bear mortalities due to hunter-related conflicts.

“Wyoming and Idaho have an opportunity to adopt a common-sense policy that will protect bears and hunters alike.” -Nicholas Arrivo. “The evidence that bear spray works is overwhelming, and the time to enact this life-saving proposal is now.”

Although grizzly bear conflicts with people remain relatively rare, data shows increasing numbers of conflicts between grizzly bears and humans. Researchers and wildlife managers overwhelmingly agree that bear spray is the most effective means of deterring attacks.

“Bear spray has been proven time and time again to be the most effective tool in preventing injury to both people and bears in close encounters, including hunting conflicts,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “It’s common sense to require hunters to carry bear spray, and agencies should act now to make it mandatory.”

In recent years, Yellowstone’s grizzly bears have suffered record levels of human-caused mortality. As of 2017, the 15 bears fatally shot during encounters with hunters represent the leading human cause of grizzly bear mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, eclipsing the previous highest cause of grizzly bear death – lethal removals for livestock losses. Most human injuries caused by grizzly bears occur during encounters with hunters.

Mandatory bear spray could prevent these unnecessary casualties. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that bear spray is 98 percent effective at preventing human injuries during bear encounters. Firearms are only 50 percent effective.

“Some have suggested that a gunshot during hunting season is like a dinner bell to a grizzly bear, at a time when bears are filling their bellies before denning,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A mandate requiring hunters to carry bear spray would save the lives of people and bears.”

“This common-sense safety measure is akin to requiring a helmet when riding a bike,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We know it works, and we know it saves lives, so it should be standard practice.”

“It’s clear and simple; bear spray works,” said Kristin Combs, executive director for Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “Hunters are extremely vulnerable, especially deep in bear habitat precisely when the animals are actively searching for food. This one easy practice will undoubtedly save the lives of both humans and bears.”

“There is still a lot of work to be done before grizzly bear conservation can be called a success,” said Josh Osher, public policy director for Western Watersheds Project. “Reducing bear mortalities and human injury by requiring hunters to carry bear spray is an obvious and effective policy with no downside.”

What do you think about requiring hunters to carry bear spray? Do you prefer to carry bear spray or a gun in bear country?

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