At Friday’s Commission meeting, the Commissioners determined that a new regulation should not be enacted to require hunters in grizzly bear territory to carry bear spray as our petition recommended. The petition that was put forth by WWA, the Humane Society of the U.S., Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council in April requested the Commissioners to enact a new regulation that would have required hunters in grizzly bear territory to carry bear spray. Our Executive Director was there to represent the organizations that brought the petition and speak on their behalf. Unfortunately, the discussion among the Commissioners was less about human safety in bear habitat and more about delisting of the bears and bears’ loss of the “fear of humans.” Commissioner Crank once again showed how little the Commissioners know of grizzly biology and behavior. Hazing bears with bear spray would be one way to teach bears that humans mean a negative encounter, whereas killing bears by hunting would not result in the same outcome.
The other point raised had to do with bears being in “unsuitable habitat.” The state of Wyoming is historically suitable bear habitat biologically speaking. However, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has determined that much of the state is “unsuitable social habitat” for grizzly bears. However, the Department has no social scientists nor have studies ever been conducted that we are aware of that determine where “socially suitable” habitat exists. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department continues to cater to the hunting, outfitting, and ranching communities and ignores the remainder of the population who are in fact still constituents, even though they do not hunt or ranch.
The positive outcome of the meeting is that the Commissioners did highly recommend that everyone carry bear spray in the backcountry, even hunters. The continuation of this conversation won’t end with this decision and we plan to continue to educate and encourage all government agencies involved with human and bear safety to require everyone recreating in grizzly territory to carry bear spray. Your life just might depend on it.