It could have been Pioneer Day celebrations in St. Anthony or just other conflicting summer fun events, but a recent bear spray canister giveaway event failed to pass out all of the available cans.
Becky Lewis, the Forest Service’s campground bear safety program director, still has 180 free bear spray canisters to give away from her original 545, and plans to do it from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Henry’s Fork Foundation headquarters, 801 Main St. in Ashton.
“I figured we’d get rid of them all at one event, but apparently multiple events work better,” Lewis said. “The traffic was crazy the first four hours. And then it just died down. I hope to give them all away at the Ashton event.”
The free cans of bear spray do come with a few strings attached. Recipients must have either an Idaho hunting or fishing license, a photo ID and be at least 16 years old. The limit is two cans per family, one per individual.
Lewis said she obtained $9,000 in grant money to buy the hundreds of bear spray cans from the Western Bear Foundation, and the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Idaho Fish and Game and the Forest Service will have people on hand to help out with the Ashton event.
The Henry’s Fork Foundation will open up its building for visitors to tour and learn about the foundation’s work.
“We are going to have the bear education trailer there again,” Lewis said. “We want to educate people on bears and answer any questions they have. My focus is definitely two-pronged, give away the bear spray and education.”
There have been two recent bear incidents this summer in Island Park, underscoring the need to recreate with bear spray.
“Last week a bike rider was chased by a bear and we had the guy that was attacked a few weeks before that,” Lewis said. “He didn’t have bear spray.”
Lewis oversees a program of volunteers who visit Island Park area Forest Service campgrounds during the summer to check on camper compliance with bear safety rules.
“My husband and I do a lot of hiking and we always have it with us,” she said of her bear spray. “We’ve had to pull it out and remove the safety a couple of times but never had to spray it. That’s good. It’s supposed to be your last line of defense. Do the other things properly to avoid the encounter. But if you have to have it, it’s a good thing to have.”