Wildlife groups want Idaho to require hunters to carry bear spray in grizzly territory

A coalition of environmental and animal welfare groups on Thursday submitted a petition to Idaho officials asking them to require hunters in grizzly bear habitat to carry bear spray.

The petition, backed by the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Watersheds Project and several other groups, claims conflicts between hunters and grizzly bears are on the rise. Requiring hunters to carry non-lethal bear spray could reduce the incidence of fatalities and injuries for both humans and bears, the groups argue.

The petition asks Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission to adopt “a proven, common-sense approach that will benefit both hunters and grizzly bears.” A similar petition was sent to Wyoming’s Fish and Game Commission.

In Idaho, grizzlies are found in the Southeast part of the state near the Wyoming border (known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) and in the panhandle north of Coeur d’Alene, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The bears may also be along the Montana border in north-central Idaho, IDFG said. Last year, Montana wildlife officials said the bears are starting to move into new areas of Idaho and into Washington.

IDFG already recommends carrying bear spray in grizzly territory, but it’s not mandatory.

It’s not the first time bear spray requirements have been proposed in grizzly habitat. In 2009, a Wyoming attorney proposed legislation that would require backcountry permit-holders to carry the spray. Last fall, Montanans petitioned the state’s Fish and Wildlife agency to require bear spray in two-thirds of the state, Montana Public Radio reported.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsement of the spray says the non-lethal deterrent offers better protection against grizzlies than firearms do, but some victims of bear attacks still use firearms to ward off the animals.

According to the petition in support of bear spray, humans have been the leading cause of grizzly bear mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 1992, and the problem appears to be worsening. Since 2014, the number of bears killed in the area has increased.

In 2017, a record number of those incidents were due to conflicts between bears and hunters. Additionally, the bulk of bear-inflicted injuries on humans occur during hunter-bear encounters.

Last fall, an Idaho man was attacked by a grizzly while bow hunting in Montana. He survived, but said he was unable to use his bear spray in time to deter the animal. His hunting partner later deployed bear spray, inadvertently misting the spray on both men.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission meets Thursday, April 11, via conference call. The petition to require bear spray is not on the meeting agenda.

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