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Hunting Grizzlies

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Conservation groups have asked Wyoming Game and Fish to require hunters to carry bear spray.

CODY — Conservation organizations have asked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to require hunters carry bear spray in an attempt to reduce grizzly bear mortality.

The proposals — the groups petitioned the same of Idaho — come after a number of grizzly bear mortalities due to hunter-related conflicts.

There have also been an uptick in grizzly bear encounters recently. Last year Wyoming Game and Fish captured 59 grizzlies — 29 in Park County.

“Wyoming and Idaho have an opportunity to adopt a common-sense policy that will protect bears and hunters alike,” said Nicholas Arrivo, a staff attorney at the Humane Society of the United States. “The evidence that bear spray works is overwhelming, and the time to enact this lifesaving proposal is now.”

Game and Fish already mentions bear spray as an effective deterrent for aggressive or defensive bears but stops short of recommending it as the best defense.

One of the main tips for staying safe in bear country on the Bear Wise site is simple.

“Carry a defense readily accessible,” it reads. “The knowledge of how to use your defense should be automatic.”

Although grizzly bear conflicts with people remain relatively rare, data shows increasing numbers of conflicts between grizzly bears and humans during the fall hunting season as grizzly bears are drawn to gut piles left by hunters or come face to face with hunters in surprise encounters.

The groups provided data showing that 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.

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“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.”

The main active ingredient in bear spray is capsaicin, which is derived from chili peppers. Bear spray, when properly used, gets into mucus membranes and causes a burning sensation that deters bears.

Game and Fish urges those in grizzly country to make sure they are carrying an EPA-registered bear spray and not another form of self-protection pepper spray, which does not shoot out as far or have a high enough concentration of capsaicinoids.

“Bear spray is an effective deterrent that is designed specifically to deter aggressive or charging bears, but is not a substitute for following appropriate safety precautions,” a G&F note reads.

Wyoming and Idaho have 60 days to respond to the petitions.

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