Spray, don't shoot

 

The meaning of a recent court case in Wyoming is clear: you can't kill a grizzly just because you're frightened. 41-year-old Stephen Westmoreland shot a female grizzly last fall just outside of Grand Teton National Park that showed no sign of aggression. He'd been gutting a deer and was "covered in animal blood," according to an OregonLive story, when he came across the bear feeding on a gut pile he'd seen earlier in the day. He shot it from 40 yards, afraid the griz might decide to attack him.

Last week a Jackson Hole jury convicted Westmoreland of a misdemeanor in the shooting, since it's legal to kill a grizzly only in genuine self-defense. The News&Guide reports:

The case shows we need to understand the best ways to avoid conflicts with and defend ourselves from grizzly bears,” (Teton County Attorney Steve) Weichman said. “We need to understand when we’re in danger and when we’re not.”

“Just killing a grizzly bear because it scares you is not going to fly,” he said. “That’s the message of this case.”

And that's a very important message now that people are allowed to carry loaded guns in national parks in some circumstances. Government could do a better job of educating  gun-toters about when a predator is actually a threat, suggests NewWest.net:

To provide for hunter safety and prevent the unnecessary killing of grizzly bears, state and federal agencies need to give hunters guidelines on when it’s OK to shoot a bear in self-defense.

Well, that's a start. But it's far better not to get yourself into a self-defense scenario in the first place. Weichman's right -- hunters and park visitors who wield firearms in grizzly territory need to take some responsibility. They ought to carry bear spray or flares rather than just reflexively gunning down wildlife they see as a threat, and learn how to lessen their chances of surprising a grizzly. Otherwise, we're going to see more cases like Westmoreland's ... and more dead bears.