Be careful with ‘Bear spray’ | PostIndependent.com
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Be careful with ‘Bear spray’

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Randy Hampton believes that bear mace, or “pepper spray,” is kind of like carrying a First-Aid Kit: You may never need to use it, but it’s nice to have it just in case.

“Bear sprays can be effective, but people who use it typically end up with some level of regret,” said Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Hampton referred to people not fully understanding the impact of discharging pepper spray into the air, saying that often times people feel the effects of the spray as well.



“When using them in unfavorable wind conditions, you pop one open and you are going to smell it, too,” Hampton said.

In the Roaring Fork Valley, and most of the state, black bears are around and there is always the possibility that hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts are going to run into one every now and then. And since surprising a bear is never a good idea, Hampton recommends using a more primitive and less expensive form of prevention: Making noise.



“The reality is that the majority of people are never going to need to use it. Bears are going to avoid human contact as much as possible,” Hampton said. “There may be an instance where you get into a situation with a bear in the backcountry and (pepper spray) is effective, but making noise is the most effective tool.”

The entire bear population in Colorado is black bears, there are no grizzlies or brown bears. Hampton said that black bears are generally less aggressive and more timid around people than grizzly bears. But that doesn’t mean that black bears should be taken any less seriously when seen in a wilderness setting.

Hampton said that pepper spray, designed to protect a person from a bear attack, may make a person feel more secure on the trail or in the backcountry, but it’s not a good idea for people to approach a bear if they see one just because they have pepper spray.

“If it’s used as protection for the rare instances involving a bear, it’s effective,” Hampton said. “If it’s a tool that is making you brave enough to do something that you would otherwise not do, it’s not good.”

As fall closes in for 2008, black bear activity in the Roaring Fork Valley will increase as the bears look to pack on the pounds in preparation for winter. During hyperphagia a black bear will consume upwards of 20,000 calories a day and may eat as long as 20 hours. The goal is to put on enough weight to make it through hibernation. According to Hampton, that means that bears in the area are constantly on the move, searching for food.

Most often, incidents involving bears in the valley occur at homes rather than on the trail or camping. But Hampton warns homeowners not to rush out and purchase a can of bear spray just yet.

“It’s unlikely that a homeowner will be in a situation to use bear spray in their house,” Hampton said. “Hiking is where the product is appropriate. You are more likely to have an accident where the bear spray is released in the house and you regret it rather than being in an incident where you’ll really need it in the home.”

Hampton noted that there are more than four million domestic dog attacks involving humans in the United States, compared to only about a dozen black bear attacks on humans. And most of those attacks happen in place that are, “relatively remote,” according to Hampton.

“If you see a bear, don’t get any closer,” Hampton said. “Generally that is when we see a problem, when people try to approach the animal to get a closer picture or something like that. But the bear sees that as aggression on your part. Most people don’t think they are being aggressive toward bears, but that is how bears see it.”

Any wild animal can be dangerous, Hampton added, not only bears. When recreating in the wilderness one should never approach wildlife and always keep a safe distance.

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

jgardner@postindependent.com


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