CODY — A team of conservation organizations urged the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to require hunters to carry bear spray in the field.
However, at the end of its two-day meeting in Rock Springs last Friday afternoon, the commission chose not to take action on a petition submitted in April by the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States, WildEarth Guardians, Natural Resources Defense Council, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rather than mandate a new policy, the commission philosophically endorsed the carrying of bear spray by all individuals engaging in any form of recreation in the back country and said they should know how to use it as a self-defense mechanism.
The state G&F department has a standing recommendation urging people to bring bear spray with them into the back country.
In recent years, scientific studies have endorsed the use of bear spray as a more effective means for deterring charging grizzly bears rather than relying on guns and bullets.
Still, those with experience in potentially life-threatening situations with bears make individual choices based on unfolding circumstances or comfort on whether to employ bear spray or to fire a hand gun or hunting rifle.
Those same conservation groups celebrated the return of grizzly bears to Endangered Species Act protection in a court case last September and have opposed the reintroduction of grizzly hunting if the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho regain the power from federal authorities to monitor the bears’ population.
Concerned about mortality rates as the Yellowstone grizzly bear continues its recovery from endangered species status, the conservation groups believe fewer bears would be killed in potential conflict situations if every hunter had to carry bear spray.
“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 human conflicts,” said the Sierra Club’s Bonnie Rice in a statement in advance of the commission meeting.
A spokesman for WildEarth Guardians compared carrying bear spray to “a common-sense safety measure” such as requiring people to wear helmets when they bicycle.
Although G&F employees are provided bear spray, it is not a job requirement that they do so. Prior to the meeting, G&F director Brian Nesvik said he believes all employees do carry bear spray in the course of their outdoor duties.
Grand Teton National Park is one place that does have a bear spray requirement, for elk hunters.