Bear spray

While bear spray has been recognized as an effective tool for self defense in grizzly bear encounters for more than 30 years, debate over the best specifications for spray duration continues.

MICHAEL GALLACHER, Missoulian

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee officially stepped out of the bear spray market on Tuesday, taking a neutral stance regarding competing companies’ claims of which brand best repels a charging grizzly.

In particular, the IGBC dropped its “six-second” recommendation for how long a can of bear spray should spray. UDAP, a bear spray maker based in Butte, had filed legal action claiming the interagency group had no grounds to say one spray duration was better than another.

Another Montana-based bear spray company, Counter Assault, advertises its cans as meeting “recommendations suggested by bear biologists and wildlife specialists of the IGBC” for lasting 7.2 to 9.2 seconds. It notes that UDAP’s cans spray for 4 to 5.4 seconds which it claims “does not meet IGBC recommendations.”

Scott Jackson, a U.S. Forest Service representative to the IGBC, said on Tuesday that the committee wanted to encourage people using bear spray safely, but did not want to get into product endorsements. He recommended the committee limit its advice to using sprays registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA reviews bear spray as a pesticide, and inspects products for the amount of active ingredient, spray distance and cloud size. But the agency doesn’t give guidance on how long the spray should last.

“When you have a female with cubs, they might bluff-charge two or three times,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel. “You want a few extra shots in one can.”

But that assumes someone being attacked by a bear can clearly gauge how long the trigger is pressed, Jonkel added. Whether a can shoots the same amount of spray quicker or longer has to be factored with what the bear is doing, how many bears are involved and other factors.

The bigger concern, committee members said, was the possible marketing of small “palm-sized” canisters that might deter dogs or muggers but aren’t large enough to faze a charging grizzly. Bear spray does not incapacitate a bear the way tear gas affects a person. Instead, it degrades the bear’s senses of smell, sight and hearing enough to discourage it from continuing an attack.

The irritating ingredient capsicum is mixed with vegetable oil in the spray, and may even have a reverse effect of attracting bears when people have sprayed it on campsites like mosquito repellent.

“No method of bear deterrent is 100 percent effective,” Jackson said. “We encourage people to carry bear spray and know how to use it. But all the products perform differently.”

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