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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

September 1, 1999
Contacts: Dominic Domenici 307-261-6364
Karen Miranda Gleason 303-236-7917, x. 431

Outfitters and Guides Develop Safety Class to Prevent Bear Attacks

In a unique partnership with the Wyoming Outfitters & Guides Association and the Professional Guide Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Law Enforcement is providing technical assistance and financial support for an innovative safety class designed and presented by and for outfitters and guides working in grizzly country.

During the past year, over 200 outfitters and guides in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado have been trained to safely share the backcountry with bears. Law enforcement agents and bear experts assisting with the class hope it will help minimize bear encounters, along with the potential harm to people enjoying the Fall 1999 hunting season.

The course, titled "Safety for People, Safety for Bears: Avoiding and Mitigating Bear Encounters in Grizzly Country," is tailored to address the needs of professional outfitters and guides who are responsible for the safety of hunters and others they lead into the backcountry. The curriculum includes tips on running a bear-safe camp, as well as bear identification and avoidance techniques. The training certifies and encourages participants to provide instruction to others, including their employees and clients.

The training also includes an unusual outdoor field exercise simulating a bear encounter, to provide practice in the proper use of pepper spray to deter an attack. Class sponsors hope to add similar computer-based simulations to the course in the near future.

Course presenters discourage the use of firearms to mitigate bear attacks, because the practice has resulted in much greater frequency and severity of injuries to people involved. The reliability and safety of pepper spray over other methods of deterrence has also been promoted by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which has studied bear encounters, as well as the University of Montana Border Grizzly Project, which has conducted lab studies testing the spray on real bears.

Based on the investigation of bear attacks since 1992 by Service law enforcement agents, who help teach the course, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time. During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury over 90% of the time, and the remaining 5-10% experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.

Dominic Domenici, Senior Resident Agent for the Service’s Wyoming Field Office, stresses that pepper spray is not a substitute for other important safety practices and shouldn’t be relied upon to stop every bear.

"Seat belts in cars are very effective in preventing injuries, but you should not drive your car into a bridge just because you are wearing a seat belt," he said. "Pepper spray is the last line of defense." He believes that if people follow safety practices taught in the course, their chances of being attacked by a bear are very slim.

Also helping teach the course are members of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Shoshone National Forest. Seven classes have been held so far this year at various locations during annual and local chapter meetings of outfitter and guide associations for Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, as well as during an America Outdoors conference in Colorado. Funding for the course has been provided by Cody Country Outfitters and Guides, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North American Wild Sheep Foundation, Safari Club International, and the National Rifle Association.

Course materials are also being provided at no cost to the National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander, Wyoming, for use by outdoor education instructors. The training may be made available to the public in the coming year, depending upon funding. For scheduling information, contact Tim Doud, Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, 307-527-6103.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps State,Tribal, and foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

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