Louisa Willcox’s (Natural Resource Defense Council,NRDC) Blog: A Big Step for Bear Kind: Go BLM!

This move is right on target…literally!!!Bear spray is the way to go.

Without fanfare or fuss, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), District Manager Tim Bozorth, recently took a big step to reduce the potential for bear conflicts with big game hunters. The BLM is now requiring that outfitters operating on its lands in the Dillon District carry bear pepper spray. This move will help keep hunters and bears safe: according to grizzly bear expert Dr. Stephen Herrero, bear pepper spray has been found to be 95% effective in deterring bears in close encounter situations.

This decision comes at a critical time, as big game hunters have emerged as a leading cause of grizzly bear mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In the fall, bears are in hyper-drive, seeking to pack on the pounds necessary to survive months in hibernation. Some grizzlies have learned that the sound of a gunshot can signal a potential food reward: a gut pile or other remains of a dead elk. In other instances, hunters may be moving quietly through the woods, and accidently bump into a grizzly bear at a range too close for the comfort of either party—and the result can be a dead bear or an injured person. In other circumstances, hunters who shoot their elk late in the day and leave the carcass on the ground overnight find the next morning that a grizzly is feeding on the remains—and ready to dispute their ownership.

In these and other close encounter situations with grizzly bears, bear spray has been proven to be an effective alternative to a gun. By spraying a cloud of red-hot pepper out 25 feet, 9 feet across, you don’t have to be a particularly good aim either—and you don’t risk the ire and/or potential injury from a grizzly wounded by a gunshot.

NRDC and other grizzly bear advocates have long argued that hunters carry bear pepper spray as a common-sense precautionary practice. This makes particular sense since dead deer and elk are such powerful grizzly attractants. And, with the loss of whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as a result of an unprecedented outbreak of mountain pine beetles—the result of warming winter temperatures—grizzly bear/hunter conflicts can be expected to increase, as hungry grizzlies seek high-calorie alternative foods in the fall.

The biggest hurdle to expanding the use of bear pepper spray among hunters has been that some are not convinced of its effectiveness. Others are resistant to changing their old habits and traditional hunting practices. Although all of the land management and wildlife agencies endorse and encourage the use of bear pepper spray by hunters and other recreationists in grizzly country, they have been typically reluctant to require that people carry it and know how to use it. One major exception is Grand Teton National Park, where hunters are required to carry bear spray. (Unlike most national parks, Grand Teton allows hunting in a portion of the park.) At an Interagency Grizzly Bear meeting last fall, Grant Teton Park biologist Steve Cain reported that the Park’s bear spray requirements met virtually no resistance by hunters. This suggests that more hunters are learning more about its benefits, and getting used to carrying it.

Requiring that hunters carry bear spray simply makes sense—just like requiring people to buckle-up their seatbelts for their own safety. Of course, bear spray is not “brains in a can”—and you still need to know what you are doing if you’re going to be hunting in grizzly bear country—but it certainly can help in a close encounter bear situation.

BLM District Manager Tim Bozorth’s recent decision to require outfitters on Dillon area BLM lands to carry bear spray is a sound one—and other agencies, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, should follow his example. The BLM lands in the Dillon district will become increasingly important to the future of the grizzly bear, which will need additional wild land habitat to offset the loss of whitebark pine in the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Some of these lands also comprise critical habitat connecting Yellowstone to central Idaho’s Selway Bitterroot Ecosystem, where bears have been virtually eliminated—but where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that recovery of a population of 400-600 bears is possible. In the long run, keeping grizzly bears in the lower-48 states healthy will involve expanding where bears can be, recolonizing and recovering grizzlies in the Selway Bitterroot Ecosystem, and connecting the long-isolated Yellowstone grizzly bear population along the Continental Divide (including some of the Dillon area BLM land), through the Selway Bitterroot ecosystem, to more robust grizzly bear populations in British Columbia.

Tim Bozorth deserves high praise for taking such a practical step to help keep bears and hunters safe—and to make achieving this important long-term vision of grizzly bear recovery within closer reach. Way to go BLM! May other public land managers follow your lead!


One Response to “Louisa Willcox’s (Natural Resource Defense Council,NRDC) Blog: A Big Step for Bear Kind: Go BLM!”

  1. 3D TV at CES 2010 | My 3D Weblog Says:

    […] Louisa Willcox’s (Natural Resource Defense Council,NRDC) Blog: A Big Step for Bear Kind: Go BL… […]

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