Bear spray

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission met in July to discuss the idea of requiring hunters to carry bear spray in the grizzly-occupied Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Later in the month, the commission quickly and unanimously dismissed the proposed regulation.

Wyoming wildlife officials gathering in Rock Springs on Friday plan to discuss the idea of requiring hunters to carry bear spray in the grizzly-occupied Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Such a mandate is perhaps unlikely. The reason it’s coming up before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is because seven environmental activist groups petitioned the state agency and its governor-appointed board.

“Bear spray is not ‘brains in a can,’ ” the groups wrote, “and petitioners do not suggest that it alone can substitute for comprehensive best practices when recreating in grizzly bear range.

“But as grizzly-hunting encounters continue to increase in frequency and lethality, regulatory action is needed to reduce avoidable death and injury to bears and hunters,” the petition states. “The proposed regulation represents a simple and proven way to achieve these ends.”

A bear spray mandate wouldn’t be pioneering. Such regulations already exist for elk hunters who use Grand Teton National Park. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, however, has never attempted to promulgate a must-carry rule for the hunters it licenses to pursue game each fall in the Yellowstone region.

Wyoming Game and Fish is not taking a formal position on the petition, director Brian Nesvik said. Anecdotally, he said, the reception to such a regulation among his staff would be “pretty darn mixed.”

“In general our folks think that [bear spray is] important for people who are going to recreate, whether it’s for hunting or any other kind of recreation,” Nesvik said. “We do not have any kind of policy that mandates it [for employees], but the department provides bear spray and I don’t know any of our employees that don’t carry it.”

The seven groups that signed onto the petition are the Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Watersheds Project, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and WildEarth Guardians. The seven-page document, mailed to the department in April, is attached to the online version of this story at

Their petition summarizes scientific studies that establish bear spray as the most effective means of deterring bears, including even lethal tools like firearms. One seminal Alaskan study that looked at two decades of data found that the capsicum propellent deterred bruins before humans sustained injury 98% of the time. Discharging firearms during grizzly encounters, by contrast, resulted in human injury 54% of the time during one eight-year period assessed by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

Petitioners also reasoned that a mandate was necessary because conflict between grizzlies and hunters has soared into uncharted territory. Hunters defensively killed 15 grizzlies during 2017 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is a record. In all but one of the last seven years, there have been at least three human injuries from grizzly encounters.

The Game and Fish Commission has budgeted 20 minutes to review the bear spray petition, and the agenda slates the discussion for 3:50 p.m. Friday. The meeting will be live streamed; the feed can be accessed at

The outcome Friday could go one of two ways, Nesvik said: The commission could opt to end the conversation, or it could direct the department to prepare a draft regulation.

“I would expect that they will give it fair and full consideration,” Nesvik said.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(18) comments

Ken Chison

DOA. The game and fish never even considered it, thankfully. Great follow up by Mr. Crank, I believe it was, letting the humane society and Sierra club know how their constant interference, on issues they don't understand, are hurting the bears. Agreed upon by the commissioners that there is currently 3 times more bears than the ecosystem can support. As I have said before, and supposed local experts have denied, bears are now associating gunshots to food. All fear of man is being lost. A can of bear spray sure isn't the answer. This year could be a grizzly slaughter, , all thanks to the uninformed public resistance, who let their emotions rule over common science. As stated at the meeting, no animal in the world has been studied more than the Yellowstone grizzly. The experts have stated the bears are recovered and should now be managed. What part of that science don't they understand?

Tony Rutherford

Ken, when the commissioners agreed that the current population was three times what the ecosystem could support, were they referring to "biological" or "cultural" carrying capacity?

Ken Chison

Tony. I guess I don't know what is meant by a cultural population. I would believe that the panel of experts, who believe the population is recovered, would base their science on being biological. The video that was sent to me was off of a friend's phone who was at the meeting. The audio was not the greatest, but, the general concensus from the commissioners, as well as ranchers with skin in the game, was that the population of bears was becoming quite burdensome. The grizzly activity and problems caused this year alone was quite alarming.So, maybe you could share with me by what is meant as cultural, in this case.

Tony Rutherford

Biological carrying capacity is what the ecosystem has the ability to support. Cultural carrying capacity is that which society "tolerates". Grizzly bears being at three times biological carrying capacity is highly improbable, and probably impossible. If grizzlies were truly at three times biological carrying capacity......the chance of a hunt would be about "0". If their numbers were that high, disease, and other factors would correct the over-population pretty quickly. I follow this because it's important. I'll never believe that removing 20 or so bears from the Yellowstone area will have any impact on conflicts with humans, predation on livestock, or predation on wildlife. I follow this closely because I find it interesting, and I find it my duty as a lifelong hunter to be involved in the hunting regulatory process. Hunt them or won't really have much impact on me directly. But how we pick and choose the battles we'll wage with others will likely have an impact on us all? The general population is pretty supportive of hunting.......until it involves a bear, a cat, a canine, or an animal we might see in a zoo. I doubt we'll see a bear hunt this year.....especially as long as the numbers that are killed remain high without a hunt.

Jay Westemeier

If the "commissioners" you mention are the governor appointed board of the Wyoming Game & Fish, you have to consider extreme bias and conflict of interest on any decision involving predators. All but one on that board are hunters, ranchers, or are associated with the oil and gas industry. How convenient.

sean henry

i'm surprised G & F is giving this 20 minutes

Tony Rutherford

Interesting topic. I can't imagine there needing to be a law that forces hunters to take effective safety measures? Seems like carrying bear spray would be a given? Maybe the state needs to pass a law that requires all hunting parties to have at least one person designated as grizzly bear outlook? Wyoming forces out-of-state hunters to have a guide for safety why not force an outlook person for safety reasons?

Chad guenter

How about lone hunters, Mr. Rutherford? Do they have to bring along an "outlook"? What about a husband and wife hunting, do they have to bring along an "outlook". If I am out hunting with an "outlook person" and a grizzly charges me from a short distance, I will shoot it, as my "outlook person" watches on from afar so as to not alert the quarry I am after. What you are suggesting makes absolutely NO sense.

Tony Rutherford

Thanks for bringing my error to my attention.......should have used the word "lookout". Yep......if you're gonna hunt in the this single hunters......and all parties have "lookouts". If a bear attacks.....kill it dead in it's questions asked. If a person spends his or her first 60 years as a Wyoming resident.....and moves on the other side of the Teton pass into Idaho.....they, as I understand it, are not permitted to hunt without a guide? What I'm suggesting with regard to a "lookout" is what is suggested on the WFG it must have made sense to the wildlife officials?

Chad guenter

Mr. Rutherford, your error was not in a simple word reversal. I carry bear spray every time I go out hunting, so do other members of my family that hunt as well. We dont it because it is demanded by the State, we do it for an added personal safety measure. Your "lookout" proposal is so ridiculous it would only be considered in a State such as California which completely disregards Common Sense and personal liberty. Take our surplus bears to California along with your legislative suggestions.

Tony Rutherford

The arguments we'll hear and read in the not too distant future, say about the time bulls start rutting) will be entertaining to say the least. Some will argue that there needs to be a grizzly season because it's simply too dangerous to hunt these areas.....while at the same time they will argue against being required to take any safety precaution such as carrying spray......or having a "lookout". I've hunted as long as I can remember........and I wouldn't hunt any animal if there were only 700 or so.......up from 150 or so back in the 70's. But that's just me. If the tri-state area decides hunting grizzlies is the right thing to do......I won't support it but I wouldn't be actively opposed to it.


I think he meant a canary, as in the coal mine sense. One person carrying a loaf of salami as the lookout. While he's fighting off the bear, everyone else can get away. Maybe invite your neighborhood environmentalist, they make good bait... I mean lookouts.

Tony Rutherford

Chad.....I get the impression that we both enjoy a reasonable debate, or argument? I appreciate the discussion being civil. I'd like to strike the words "outlook", as well as "lookout" and replace them with the word used by Wyoming Fish and Game......"sentinel"......if that's ok? Oddly you argue.....but it sounds like you already are doing what I've suggested? WF&G suggests the same as I do too.....odd? I know that neither forcing anyone to carry bear spray, or hunting in pairs is going to be adopted into law. Looks like many already are doing both without any law adoption? Oddly, no widow who's husband got munched by a grizzly has sued Wyoming......based on the position it takes with regard to non-resident hunters with respect to guide requirements......compared to the position taken for resident hunters regarding guides.

Ken Chison

Tony. An interesting analogy. Maybe they should pass a law, in America's highest crime rate, liberal run cities, that would require all individuals to carry a gun to protect themselves. In essence, there is no difference.

Tony Rutherford

Maybe so. I lived for years in the city with the highest murder rate in the country for years...….#1 hands down. I own plenty of sporting guns.....but at that time I didn't own a handgun. I never ran into a situation where I needed a gun because I didn't go into to the areas where folks were getting murdered. But if I were a resident of WY, MT or ID and I wanted to see a grizzly bear season I would have been very supportive of the bear spray carry requirement, and I'd be writing folks with the power of legislative influence telling them that I no longer feel safe hunting due to the bear issue, and won't be purchasing a license or tags this season...….any season for that matter as long as the bear issue goes unchecked. Of those states I mentioned you're much more likely to be injured or killed by a drunk driver than by bear you may want to insert your driver's license in one of those letters you send to a legislator, and explain that driving has become too dangerous too?

Ken Chison

Let's see now, Tony. There is probably about 1.5 million vehicles registered in those 3 states. And, those vehicles are in every demographic location there is. Compare that to about 1200 bears, and, I would say statistically, there is a way better chance of getting hit by a drunk driver. So what? I hunt anywhere from 18 to 28 miles away from any trailhead. If I forget, or lose my bear spray, I'm not traveling out to get another one. And, anything that is required means that a citation accompanies not having it on your persons. When is the last time you seen a grizzly in the wild? And not the asphalt, photographer special bears. Unless you know the hardships and devestation that long time families are having bestowed upon them, I believe maybe you might tone down a notch or two. The problem with the bear encounters isn't from not carrying bear spray. It's from an over population of bears. There is no longer anywhere to move problem bears. These bears are going to be dealt with, one way or another.

Tony Rutherford

Ken......I'd wager everything I own that you'd never forget anything for a hunt. If you hunt that far from a forget nothing because you know doing so may mean not surviving. It's just a discussion.....not need to get testy. If a all three states agree to hold you believe it'll have any impact? I don't. Bears may be removed.....but were they problem bears? Bears removed means other bears move in...….are those that move in problem bears? You have a unique doubt. Every once in a while we win.....when we make the other side believe we've lost. Continue to kill bears while hunting during encounters......and the opposition argues that enough bears are being removed without hunting them. Lobby for measures that may prevent killing during encounters...….and perhaps you show that you're more interested in measures of protection that don't result in bear mortality? But, to answer your question......May 12th was the last time I saw a grizzly in the wild. It was in Grand Teton NP. In May of 2018 in Yellowstone I saw a sow with two cubs. I suspect I'll see some in this September in either Teton or Yellowstone. If you live in these areas you are truly blessed. I hope to retire there. I like watching the bears. But, I'd like looking at them if I were hunting elk as well. When Wyoming set a hunt.....but stated that the hunt would be ended as soon as any sow were killed.....they essentially stated that our bear population can't afford the removal of even one sow......which suggests there really wasn't a huntable population. Why wouldn't WFG hold a hunt and target problem bears only......since they are so abundant. Thanks for keeping it civil.....and safe hunting this fall


This will amount to something like a seat belt law. It is additive when you get caught for something else. Since there is no such requirement for tourists. Claim you're a tourist or a private national.

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