BILLINGS – Yellowstone National Park has launched a new education campaign in an attempt to increase the number of tourists carrying bear spray.
Titled “A Bear Doesn’t Care,” the advertisements feature people like Bozeman mountain climber Conrad Anker touting the use of bear spray.
"A bear doesn't care if you climbed to the top of the world," the poster featuring Anker reads. Anker has climbed around the world, including three ascents of Mount Everest.
“A bear doesn’t care how far you’re hiking, if you’re just fishing, or even if you work here,” said park Superintendent Dan Wenk in a news release. “No matter who you are or what you are doing, you should always carry bear spray and know how to use it.”
Recent data collected by park scientists revealed that only 28 percent of visitors who enter the park’s backcountry carry bear spray. Studies show that bear spray is more than 90 percent effective in stopping an aggressive bear, especially when combined with the park's other safety recommendations: be alert, make noise, hike in groups of three or more, and do not run if you encounter a bear.
“Yellowstone visitors care deeply about preserving bears and observing them in the wild,” said Kerry Gunther, the park’s Bear Management Specialist, in the press release. “Carrying bear spray is the best way for visitors to participate in bear conservation because reducing potential conflicts protects both people and bears.”
According to Yellowstone's website, close to 100 million people visited Yellowstone between 1980 and 2014. In that 34-year period, 45 people were injured by bears in the park. Last August, a lone hiker was killed by a grizzly sow with cubs. He was the ninth person to be killed by a bear in the park during its 144-year history. More people have died from drowning, suicide and burns inflicted by falling into one of the park's thermal features.
Despite the low incidence of bear attacks, beginning this summer the park has hung posters in retail outlets, is placing ads in magazines and will post images on social media of visitors and local celebrities carrying bear spray while recreating in the park.
The publicity campaign was spurred by negative comments on social media and toward park employees after last year's fatal attack of a park employee, according to Charissa Reid, Yellowstone spokeswoman.
"To me it just seems irresponsible to not have that tool if you might be (attacked)," Reid said. "We're just trying to increase that number."
The other initial poster designs include artist Jennifer Lowe-Anker and National Geographic photographer Ronan Donovan. Actor Jeff Bridges, writer Todd Wilkinson, fly fisherman Craig Mathews, and others will join the campaign in the coming months.
"We're really excited that The Dude said yes," Reid said referring to Bridges' popular character in the movie "The Big Lebowski."
Posters from the campaign are available for download at flic.kr/s/aHskx93BCw and go.nps.gov/abeardoesntcare. Visit go.nps.gov/bearspray for information about bear encounters and how to use bear spray.
Bear spray demonstrations are conducted by park employees at Yellowstone visitor centers throughout the summer months.
Park staff is available to speak with local groups upon request about the history of bear attacks in the park, contributing human behaviors, how to prevent and respond to bear attacks and bear spray use. Anyone interested in hosting an event can contact the park at 307-344-2015.