Bear Spray Rentals

Mike Greener/Chronicle

Keystone Conservation executive director Lisa Upson and Northern Rockies Bear Program director Tim Bennett demonstrate the correct downward angle of how to spray bear deterrant in downtown Bozeman Monday afternoon.

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A local nonprofit wants to offer rentable bear spray cans in communities near Yellowstone National Park.

Officials with Keystone Conservation, a people-predator coexistence group, are still in the early stages of developing the program, but said rental cans could be available by mid May.

Last summer, two people were killed in bear attacks inside the park. Neither had bear spray. A sow grizzly bear was later euthanized in connection to the two incidents.

The goal of Keystone Conservation’s rental program would be to reduce human injuries and deaths and bear deaths by making bear spray more affordable and accessible, as well as promoting its use and teaching the public how to use it.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that despite all the education, people are still not carrying bear spray,” said Tim Bennett, the Northern Rockies Bear Program Director for the group. “It’s also evident that it’s the most effective tool.”

Bennett said he thinks the price of bear spray is a “significant deterrent” in keeping people from buying it. Cans cost about $40 to $50.

Further, bear spray is not allowed on airplanes, so some tourists might not buy it because they could only use it for the length of their visit.

Bennett and Lisa Upson, executive director of Keystone Conservation, are still working out the cost of renting a can of bear spray. Bennett said he’d like to see it offered for $5 a day.

A company based in Jackson, Wyo., has been renting cans and charges $10 a day, $25 for three days and $35 for a week. Keystone Conservation is talking with the group, Teton Adventure Gear HQ, about a possible partnership.

The latter organization offers the cans via retailers in Jackson, Cody and in West Yellowstone. Upson said Keystone Conservation plans to reach out to retailers in West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Bozeman, Livingston, Big Timber, Red Lodge, Cooke City and several Wyoming towns to see if they’d like to carry the rental cans.

Here’s how it would work: A local store would partner with Keystone Conservation to offer the cans. Each can would be tested before it was rented to make sure it works. Customers could rent spray in one location and return it in another. Once returned, retailers would weigh the can to make sure it was not used, then rent it out again if appropriate.

“We hope to improve public education and increase the number of people mentally and physically prepared to deal with bear encounters,” Bennett said.

Monday, Yellowstone National Park officials announced that bears are emerging from hibernation in the Greater Yellowstone Area. They advised hikers, skiers and snowshoers to stay in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.

Last week, park employees observed a grizzly bear in the north central portion of the park, and fresh tracks were spotted in the Old Faithful area.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens, according to a park news release. They are attracted to carcasses from elk and bison that died during the winter and will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Updated bear safety information is available on the Yellowstone bear safety Web page at http://1.usa.gov/bear-safety and in the park newspaper, which is distributed at all park entrances.

Carly Flandro may be reached at 582-2638 or cflandro@dailychronicle.com.

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