Yellowstone campaign boosts interest in bear spray rental, giveaway


    CODY, Wyo. - Have you ever wanted to try bear spray but thought it was too expensive? People can get it cheap or free in northwest Wyoming where grizzly bears are active right now. Hunting groups, private businesses, Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming's Game and Fish Department are working to make sure everyone is safe in bear country.

    In late August, hundreds of people saw a bear eating a buffalo in Yellowstone's LeHardy Rapids. This is the time grizzlies are very hungry, fattening up for hibernation.

    It was in August 2015 when a lone hiker was killed by a grizzly about a half mile off the popular Elephant Back Loop Trail. He was not carrying bear spray. Park officials killed the sow they believed was responsible.

    This spring park superintendent Dan Wenk announced a new campaign -- A Bear Doesn't Care. Posters at park entrances remind visitors to be vigilant in grizzly bear country and to carry bear spray.

    A bear spray rental company opened for business in Canyon Village before the Yellowstone hiker died and got a lot of business right after the attack. But later business dropped off a lot.

    Bear Aware company founder Sally Vering said, "We had people that thought we were a gimmick. They just didn't understand the need for bear spray or just what it was."

    She said the park's new bear aware campaign has boosted business a lot.

    "The park's message is extremely strong and helpful in getting the word out," Vering said.

    When the campaign started park scientists said only 28 percent of the park's visitors were carrying bear spray in the backcountry. We asked hikers then why they weren't carrying bear spray. One woman said, "I guess I'm just too cheap." Maybe paying $50 for something you hope you never have to use seems expensive.

    Vering's company rents the spray for less than $10 a can a day.

    If $10 is cheap, then free is even cheaper. Wyoming's Game and Fish Department gave 100 cans of bear spray to hunters in less than an hour last September. They're going to do it again this year. They're not just protecting hunters. They're protecting bears.

    Wyoming's Game and Fish Bear Wise coordinator Dusty Lassiter explained hunters are paying for the giveaway, "Wyoming Outdoorsmen, Yellowstone Country Bear Hunters' Association have really stepped up to reduce human caused bear mortality."

    The Game and Fish bear spray giveaway will happen Sept. 20 at 8 a.m. at the game check station on Cody's west end. Only Wyoming hunters are eligible. But you may want to get there early. All the bear spray was gone in less than an hour last September.

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