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Bear Spray Cautions

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Attachment for 'Bear Spray Cautions' (Public News Article #6683)

Thomas Smith with two polar bears


Research indicates that the proper and responsible use of bear spray will reduce the number of bears killed in self-defense and reduce human injuries caused by bears, but that the inappropriate use of bear spray may leave residues that could attract bears.

"Bear spray, used properly, has been successful in preventing injury to both humans and bears," said Tom Smith, a wildlife ecologist formerly stationed at the USGS Alaska Biological Science Center in Anchorage. "Using it properly is the key."

Smith and colleagues studied 86 incidents involving bear spray in Alaska and concluded that while bear spray is a highly effective deterrent for black, brown and polar bears, it does not act as a bear repellent when applied to tents, food containers, clothing or other objects.

Smith said inappropriate and repeated use of bear spray may attract bears to the site by leaving red pepper residues on the spray canisters, field gear, or on foliage near camps or other human high-use areas. He also urges people who carry bear spray not to test fire it near camps or other high-traffic areas.

Smith also has an interesting take on why bear spray has been effective in reducing the negative outcomes of conflicts with bears.

"I personally believe that bear deterrent sprays confer three important advantages to the user," he said. "Bear spray gives people a reason not to run; the sudden, loud hissing of the spray and billowing cloud of orange often startles bears and turns them away; and the active ingredients—capsaicin and related capsaicinoids—are strong irritants."

Smith and fellow researchers' comprehensive look at bear-spray incidents in Alaska from 1985 to 2006 was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management in 2006.

They found that when people used bear spray to defend themselves the bears stopped their undesirable behavior more than 90 percent of the time and that 98 percent of the time people in close-range encounters with bears while carrying bear spray were uninjured.       

Photo courtesy of USGS attached below:  Thomas Smith, a wildlife ecologist formerly stationed at the USGS Alaska Biological Science Center in Anchorage, is shown here holding two polar bears.  Smith is now at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.