One of the more powerful words in the English language — free — is being used to entice recreationists to learn about safety in bear country.
Starting Saturday, free canisters of bear spray will be given away to people who present a hunting or fishing license at the Island Park Ranger Station from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. while supplies last. There also will be a giveaway at the Teton Basin Ranger District in Driggs on Aug. 3 and at the Henry’s Fork Foundation office in Ashton on Aug. 10.
“I would expect it to be popular,” said James Brower regional communications manager for Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “I would absolutely be there, it’s a huge benefit. It saves you $35 or more. Free is always fantastic.”
Brower said the bear spray giveaway events are the result of a grant awarded by the Upper Valley Fish and Game Commission to the nonprofit group Western Bear Foundation that operates in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The nonprofit is dedicated to protecting bears, habitat and bear hunting. The grant allowed the foundation to purchase “hundreds” of canisters for the giveaway program.
Becky Lewis, who wrote the grant for Western Bear Foundation, has been negotiating prices with bear spray manufacturers to get as many canisters as possible for the giveaway events. Canisters generally retail for about $30 to $45. Lewis is an East Idaho master naturalist who also volunteers for Fish and Game.
In addition to the free bear spray, Fish and Game will have its “Bear Aware” trailer at the event to help educate on living and recreating in bear country. The trailer displays bear artifacts and educates on living and recreating in bear country. A Fish and Game technician or bear biologist will be on hand to answer questions.
“All of Idaho has bears and Island Park has both kinds,” Brower said. “We’re not trying to put fear into people, just promoting getting outdoors and doing so safely. An encounter is extremely unlikely, it’s probably never going to happen, but if you have all the tools you need when it does happen you’ll be prepared for it.”
To obtain a free can of bear spray, people must show a current Idaho hunting or fishing license, photo ID and be 16 years old or older. There is a limit of one can per person and two cans per family.