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November 01, 2011 8:13 am

EDITORIAL: Bear safety as vital as ever

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Back-to-back summers of fatal grizzly attacks and recent bear/hunter encounters underscore the real risks of being in bear country.

With roughly 600 grizzlies roaming the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it’s increasingly vital to follow bear safety measures.

Bear aware techniques include making noise to alert the animals of your presence, traveling in groups and always carrying bear spray.

But how do you communicate safety messages to thousands of hikers, hunters, outdoorsmen and others who venture into bear country every year? And, more importantly, how do you get them to actually follow the advice?

In coming months, Yellowstone officials, bear biologists and wildlife experts plan to sharpen the message of bear safety.

Given the recent maulings and increased grizzly activity, rethinking bear education is necessary. While many Wyomingites are familiar with bear aware advice, visitors to the Greater Yellowstone Region often do not understand the dangers of being in grizzly country.

Strengthening that message may mean using more innovative methods beyond written or spoken words. Simply being told what to do is not always enough, said Chris Servheen, head of the federal government’s grizzly recovery program.

Servheen emphasized the importance of being mentally prepared to take action. In an Associated Press article, he likened it to soldiers’ training that enables them to react to threats without hesitation. He suggested people conduct bear encounter drills so they understand how to use bear spray and how to react to grizzlies.

However, even with safety preparations, dangers always exist when dealing with wild animals. Nothing ever guarantees a safe encounter with a charging grizzly.

That was illustrated over the weekend. A hunter following safety recommendations was attacked by a bear Sunday in Grand Teton National Park. Officials say the 32-year-old Jackson man was carrying bear spray and dropped to the ground and covered his head, as recommended. He was expected to be released from the hospital Monday.

There have only been six reported bear attacks in Grand Teton Park’s history, and none of them fatal.

While still rare, grizzly attacks have increased in recent years. Bear relocations and overall incidents with humans also have become more common. It’s time to reconsider how the growing grizzly population is managed by the federal government.

Beginning in today’s edition, a Tribune series explores the great success of grizzly recovery efforts since the 1970s. Thanks to those efforts, grizzlies have made huge strides as a recovered species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

And it’s important for them to be managed as such.

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