Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Further clarification of bear spray laws in national parks

Yesterday I posted an article about bear spray being illegal in the Great Smoky Mountains and in other national parks. This information came to light after Chris Hibbard over at Your Smokies brought attention to the law after a discussion he had with one of the Supervisory Wildlife Biologists in GSMNP.

A great deal of confusion was generated about the law because it is a known fact, or it is accepted, that bear spray is legal in some of the western national parks. In fact, several national parks even go so far as to recommend carrying the spray when hiking. The source of the confusion came from the fact that there was no mention of inclusions or exclusions in the language of the law.

Last night, Kurt Repanshek from the National Parks Traveler blog provided some additional clarification to the law after a discussion he had with park officials from Grand Tetons National Park. Kurt quotes Jackie Skaggs, spokeswoman for GTNP, from his discussion:

"Superintendent's commonly further define and/or clarify park-specific rules and regulations that are applicable to their park unit through a legal instrument called the 'Superintendent's Compendium.' The Superintendent's Compendium is the legal document that Grand Teton NP uses to address and define the appropriate possession, and use, of bear pepper spray."

To see the full report on National Parks Traveler and more quotes from Ms. Skaggs on this subject, please click here.

The information that Kurt has provided indeed explains why bear spray is legal in some national parks, but not in the Great Smoky Mountains. The only question that remains is why hasn't the Superintendent for the Smoky Mountains used this compendium to override the ban in the Smokies? Given the fact that there are now more than two bears per square mile within the Park's boundaries, in addition to the rash of aggressive bear activity last year, you would think that Park officials would allow the use of bear spray so that individuals would have some form of protection, if they feel the need.

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Rachel said...

I hope that the Smoky Mts National Park will soon legalize the bear sprays, because I actually have been avoiding the park for that very reason. I am quite afraid of bears, and 2 bears for every square mile is a bit too much for me. I am planning on hiking the Appalachian trial in the upcoming year, and my husband and I have already decided to bypass the Smokies because of the bear problem. I really hate to do that, because I have heard how beautiful the park is, especially the areas with old growth forest. However, I think that I wouldn't enjoy it if I were unable to carry some sort of protection with me.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...


I'm sorry to hear you won't be visiting the Smokies. I'm sure you already know, but most of the entire AT runs through bear territory.

Also, the Smokies receives 9 million visitors each year, however, there are only a handfull of bear encounters each year. In fact, of all the times I've hiked in the park over the last 2 decades, I have never seen a bear. I've seen a couple in the Cades Cove area while in a car though.

The fact that your hiking with someone else (your husband) decreases your chances of seeing a bear, as well as a bear acting aggressively towards you.

Here's some more info:


Stay tuned. The last word on this subject may not have been written yet. I'm still hearing some debate on the what the definition of an "irritant gas device" is.


smoky scout said...

Rachel -- I hiked every trail in the Smokies this past year, walking over 1,000 miles total. I saw 10 bears while on the trails (mostly just their rear ends as they ran away) and all they want is a safe distance between you and them. I did not carry bear spray because I figure I will hurt myself with it. If you are planning a thru-hike, please don't let the thought of bears deter you. Just follow the guidelines about food storage and enjoy the beautiful Smokies.

Eric, Noelle and Sierra Grunwald said...

I'd be more afraid of some of the people using the park than the bears.

Anonymous said...

If attacked by a bear, or by a human, just call out for a Ranger. They carry firearms and chemical sprays for self-defense, and are certain to find you in a matter of days.

Ultimate Park Review said...

Thanks for the info. I was unaware of this law and wonder what legal protection form the bears is available?

Smokies Hiker said...

A few points:

The 2 most serious recent bear attacks took place a few hundred yards from a major trailhead parking area and the second most crowded campgrounds. Bear deep in backcountry usually run away before you even know they are there.

There was no discussion. I had an email sent to me about what I had on one of my web sites in regard to black bear. The email stated and I quote “It is currently illegal to carry bear spray in the Park.”

Upon a written “discussion” I received further clarification with a copy of the exact law covering the statement saying that bear spray is illegal. That is what I posted on my YourSmokiesNews.com site.

This was not a question or situation I instigated, rather a situation thrust into my lay where my retraction was not only to cover my own butt legally but morally as well.

I later heard through 2 outspoken angry people on a message board who called the park, that someone within the park, to say it nicely have a “different opinion” and that there probably won’t be a legal problem if you are seen with this banned item.

I have been requesting clarification of the above since Monday afternoon and since I was passed to another person within the park for official answers, repeated phone calls and emails to date have been unanswered.

Either it is illegal or legal. If there is a law, enforce it. If you don’t like the law, apparently all you have to do is request that the superintendent changes it.

I doubt the person who told me it was illegal has misinformed me and I believe he acted in the park visitors best interest by advising them through me what their legal stance is.

I am not passing judgment at this time on the value of bear spray versus whatever liability or other issues the NPS may feel as though they have with it.

I am greatly disappointed at the “shoot the messenger” mentality of some and it seems as though I may have upset some by bringing to light an unwritten rule or status quo I was not aware of.

Christopher Hibbard
SmokiesHiker for YourSmokies.com

Anonymous said...

I believe the US Constitution is the final law. Sorry black bears - you will get the full force treatment if you come near me or the family. Stupid tree-huger folks with their silly rules. Humans rule - bears drool!

Unknown said...

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Bear Spray