Bear spray, also called pepper spray or capsicum deterrent, is a form of pepper spray used as a tool to minimize injury due to bear-human conflict. Generally, there are periodic injuries and sometimes fatalities to both bears and humans. Studies suggest that the use of these non-lethal deterrents can reduce the risk of injury or death, for both bears and humans, perhaps more than firearms or no bear spray at all. The correct use of bear spray is vital in a human-bear conflict; however, the deterrent should not be considered a substitute for awareness and normal safety precautions while in areas populated by bears.
The use of bear spray is governed by a set of important guidelines and safety precautions that need to be understood by anyone planning on using bear spray effectively. Spray canisters should be stored in cool temperatures and handled with care, just like a weapon. They have been known to explode from overheating on car dashboards. A typical can of bear spray costs about $40 to $50 USD, but there are several operations working toward renting bear spray cans in hopes of saving both human and bear lives, while also saving money and educating the public. A Bozeman, Montana, area nonprofit, Keystone Conservation, is hoping to be in business by mid May 2012 and is working to make $5 USD day rentals for mainly Yellowstone National Park visitors. The correct and legal use of bear spray is for users to discharge the spray on an aggressive bear in a defense situation only. It should not be used to spray a passive bear. Carrying bear spray is suggested when traveling out in bear country, but one should be educated in bear avoidance techniques to stay safe in bear country and in the use of the deterrent before actually using the spray, especially in a life or death situation. Misuse of bear spray in some instances can actually lead to attracting bears.
Research has shown that there are both positives and negatives to using and having bear spray. The efficacy of bear spray depends on the situation and circumstances of the attack. In a 2008 study on the “Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska,” Tom Smith of Brigham Young University reported, “No bear spray has ever been reported to kill a bear. It is our belief that widespread use of bear spray will promote human safety and bear conservation.” On the other hand, latent spray (on object) has also led to the attraction of bears, which usually end up with the bear destroying the spray-covered object. This serves as a need to cautiously manage deterrent distribution and is a good example of where spray is useful and where it is not.
A United States Geological Survey article, “Bear Spray Safety Program,” says that bear spray is effective in fending off aggressive bears while also preventing injury to both the human and the bear. It also states, “No deterrent is 100-percent effective.” In "Living with Grizzlies," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states, “The Service supports the pepper spray policy of the Interagency Grizzly bear Committee, which states that bear spray is not a substitute for following proper bear avoidance safety techniques, and that bear spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a bear.” People are encouraged to use common bear knowledge while hiking, fishing, and especially camping in bear country. They should not make or change previous decisions just because they think bear spray will keep bears away or save their life.
Bear mace is legal across the United States. It can be purchased even in Hawaii, New York, or Massachusetts, where standard pepper sprays are illegal. However Bear mace is illegal in some National Parks; Glacier and Yellowstone encourage bearspray in the backcountry as grizzly bears reside there.
- Blome, Charles. "Bear Spray Safety Program". U.S. geological Survey. Retrieved 27 Mar. 2012.
- Smith, Tom S.; et al. (2008). "Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska". The Journal of Wildlife Management 72 (3): 640–645. Retrieved 27 Mar. 2012.
- Flandro, Carley. "Bozeman-area nonprofit working to offer rentable bear spray cans". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- Herrero, Stephen; Higgins, Andrew (1998). "Field Use of capsicum Spray as a Bear Deterrent". International Association for Bear Research and Management 10: 532–537. Retrieved 27 Mar. 2012.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Bear Spray vs. Bullets". Retrieved 30 Mar. 2012.
- "Yosemite National Park, California - Weapons/Firearms". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 21 Jun. 2013.