Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bear Spray In The National Parks: Good And Bad Policies

Dale Matson

Most individuals don't realize that bear spray is recommended in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and not allowed in Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. Bear spray is required in Banff National Park in Canada and one can be fined $25,000 for not carrying bear spray. This is primarily because predatory attacks are more likely with the Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone, Glacier Parks and Banff Parks but they have black bears also.

The problem with the Yosemite and SeKi policy is that it assumes you won't be attacked and that if you are attacked that you have a sufficient means of protecting yourself. The rationale used by the officials at Yosemite and SeKi Parks is that no one has ever been killed by a black bear in those parks. I am 69 years old and have never been in an auto accident. I still wear my seatbelt.

Here is the advice from the SeKi website.
If a bluff charge becomes a real charge and a bear makes bodily contact, first tuck into a ball face down with your hands clasped over your neck. If the bear does not immediately back off and continues in its attack, fight back hard using your fists, rocks, or whatever you have available. A prolonged attack after a bluff charge indicates that the bear views you as prey and you should defend yourself appropriately. Keep in mind that predatory attacks by black bears are very rare and have never occurred in these parks, but you should always be prepared.
Does this sound like a good policy for dealing with a predatory or otherwise black bear?

Park officials are careful to use the word “predatory” since this would limit the actual accounting of total bear attacks. There was a man attacked near the Mist Falls by a bear that would not be considered “predatory”.

Tom Smith, National Park Service research biologist had this to say in Backpacker Magazine, “What do I do if I don’t have bear spray with me?” a woman once asked me. I said, “Don't not have that stuff!” It’s irresponsible not to protect yourself, but also not to give [the bears] an alternative option. She kept going, saying, “But please answer my question.” I said, “Let me phrase it this way: You are telling me that you're riding in a truck, and refuse to wear a seatbelt. Then, you're asking me: What’s the best way to be ejected through the windshield?” That’s when I started realizing that the primary piece of information is this: Don’t go out there without a deterrent. That, and commit to making noise appropriately.”

Black bear attack statistics are available and sobering.

It is not a case of if but when. Sooner or later someone in Yosemite or SeKi will be killed by a black bear. The bear and people populations are increasing and bear encounters are more frequent. We are no match for a predator that can weigh up to 400 pounds. The park officials have not offered a sound reason for why bear spray is outlawed in the Parks here in California other than to say, “Bear spray is a weapon that has the tendency to be more of a safety and health risk for those carrying it than it is a useful tool in Yosemite.” Kirsten Randolph National Park Service Yosemite National Park.

Bear spray is allowed in other national parks such as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where people have been killed by black bears. "Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife."

There is no policy forbidding or requiring the use of bear spray in the Sierra National Forest. I think it is time Yosemite and SeKi rethink their policy and allow individuals to carry bear spray. One legal alternative is a CCW permit. Frankly, I think Yosemite and SeKi officials would prefer someone carrying bear spray to someone carrying a concealed handgun. Ultimately you are responsible for your own safety in the wilderness. Adequate self-protection is good judgment.

Bears Are Not The Only Thing To Watch For
This Mountain Lion Was Captured On My Game Camera Last Week


  1. Here is another example of a fatal bear attack with the usual comments blaming the victim and behavioral advice from people who probably never even seen a bear.

  2. Here is another example of a recent bear attack.

  3. And another example. It is only a matter of time before someone in SeKi or Yosemite gets mauled.

  4. Another Yellowstone hiker was killed by a grizzly.

  5. Have you been to Yosemite? Do you carry bear spray regardless of its ban?

  6. [I am sorry I deleted this question accidentally.] "Have you been to Yosemite? Do you carry bear spray in spite of its ban?" I only live one hour from the south gate and have been to Yosemite countless times on hikes and multi-day backpacking trips. I do not not carry bear spray. I do have legal protection however.