Is bear spray illegal in national parks?

Monday, April 20, 2009

According to Chris Hibbard over at Your Smokies, the answer to that question is an emphatic yes. Chris recently learned of this law from one of the Supervisory Wildlife Biologists with Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The law reads as follows:

(a)(1) Except as otherwise provided in this section and parts 7 (special regulations) and 13 (Alaska regulations), the following are prohibited:

(i) Possessing a weapon, trap or net
(ii) Carrying a weapon, trap or net
(iii) Using a weapon, trap or net

Sec. 1.4 What terms do I need to know?

Weapon means a firearm, compressed gas or spring-powered pistol or rifle, bow and arrow, crossbow, blowgun, speargun, hand-thrown spear, slingshot, irritant gas device, explosive device, or any other implement designed to discharge missiles, and includes a weapon the possession of which is prohibited under the laws of the State in which the park area or portion thereof is located.

A great deal of confusion has been generated about this recent revelation. The source of the confusion stems from the common perception that bear spray is legal in other national parks out west. In fact, several national parks even go so far as to recommend carrying the spray when hiking. As you’ll see in the comments section of Chris’s blog, I pointed out that it didn’t make sense that some parks would allow bear spray, and yet it would be illegal in the Smokies, especially since there was no mention of inclusions or exclusions in the language of the law.

A posting by Kurt Repanshek on the National Parks Traveler blog this morning brings a little more clarity to the situation. Here is the key statement:

Park Service officials in Washington tell the Traveler that the regulations do indeed seem to prohibit bear spray in many national parks. And they point out that while there is language that specifically allows the use of bear spray in Alaskan parks elsewhere in the Code of Federal Regulations, "(T)here is not a provision for it in the Lower 48 for some reason."

Number 1, Kurt’s contact in Washington D.C. seems to indicate that all national parks are covered equally by the same law. In other words, there is no distinction between the Smokies versus the national parks in the west. This confirms my interpretation of the law.

However, Kurt’s use of the word “seem” sounds to me like his contact in Washington isn’t 100% sure of the exact interpretation of this law at this point.

If you use bear spray in the Smokies, or any other national park, it would behoove you to stay tuned for clarification of this law. As soon as I have something more concrete about the exact interpretation, I’ll post it here.

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