PROVO, Utah Hikers and campers venturing into bear country this spring may be safer armed with 8-ounce cans of bear pepper spray than with guns, according to a new study led by a Brigham Young University bear biologist.
Thomas S. Smith, associate professor of wildlife science, has conducted field work among bears for 16 years and has never used bear spray, although he carries it faithfully. I wish I had more scary stories to share, but Ive behaved myself, said Smith, emphasizing that caution and wisdom are the best way to prevent bear attacks.
Concerned about hikers and campers persistent doubts that a small can of liquid pepper spray could stop half a ton of claws, muscle and teeth, Smith and colleagues analyzed 20 years of bear spray incidents in Alaska, home to 150,000 bears. He found that the spray effectively halted aggressive bear behavior in 92 percent of the cases, whether that behavior was an attack or merely rummaging for food. Of all 175 people involved in the incidents studied, only three were injured by bears, and none required hospitalization. Smith and his research team report their findings in the April issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management.
People working or recreating in bear habitat should feel confident they are safe if carrying bear spray, Smith said.
Smiths previous research found that guns were effective about 67 percent of the time. Shooting accurately during the terrifying split seconds of a grizzly charge is extremely difficult, he pointed out, and his data shows that it takes an average of four hits to stop a bear. In addition, firearms are prohibited in national parks like Glacier and Denali, popular with hikers and also with bears.
Working in the bear safety arena, I even found a lot of resistance to bear spray among professionals, Smith said of the product, which retails for $30-$40. There was no good, clean data set that demonstrated definitively that it worked, so thats why we
|Contact: Michael Smart|
Brigham Young University