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A young sportsman at the Idaho Sportsman Show in Boise practices his bear spray skills. Attendees at the Bears and Beers event in Driggs will also have the opportunity to face down a charging mechanical bear.

Just as trails in the Tetons begin to emerge from under snow, the local bears are emerging from hibernation, lining up outdoor enthusiasts for potential contact with the valley’s ursine inhabitants.

That’s why the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in partnership with Idaho Fish & Game, Mountain Bike the Tetons, and Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, is hosting Bears and Beer on Wednesday, May 22. Stop by the GYC office next to Peaked Sports from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to learn about bears in the area from IDFG bear biologist Jeremy Nicholson and get a refresher course on safe recreation in bear country. Attendees will have the chance to practice deploying bear spray at a charging robo-bear using an inert canister.

“Jeremy does such a great job, he’s really funny and interesting,” said Kathy Rinaldi, the GYC Idaho Conservation Coordinator. “It’s been great over the last ten years to see more people out carrying bear spray and knowing how to deploy it, because bear spray is proven to be more effective than a gun.”

It’s important to be conscious of the potential for early season encounters on the trails. Bears are extremely hungry after a long winter, and they become defensive when guarding a carcass or their cubs. Rinaldi pointed out that mountain bikes, which are quiet and fast, and dogs, which can drive a bear toward a hiker, are two variables that increase the chances of an encounter. There are also other common sense ways to avoid contact, such as making noise, hiking in a group, steering clear of carcasses, and not recreating at dawn or dusk.

“The purpose of this isn’t to scare people, they just need to be aware,” Rinaldi said. “Being good stewards will keep bears alive and people safe.”

While black bears are more common in Teton Valley, grizzly bears have come to inhabit more of the Palisades and the Big Holes in the last three to five years. (View the range expansion graphic here.) Rinaldi explained that from a conservationist’s perspective, protecting endangered grizzlies means the three Cs: core habitat, connective habitat, and reducing conflict. Conflict with humans results in the deaths of dozens of bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each year.

“A bear always loses when it comes in contact with a human,” Rinaldi said. “Grizzlies need a lot of space where they don’t have to come in contact with people. In the Tetons we’re in a hot spot; it’s prime grizzly habitat where there is a lot of recreational pressure. We have an insatiable appetite for access. Is preserving wildlife important enough to us that we restrain our access?”

Free beer and snacks will be provided. To RSVP, e-mail GYC conservation associate Allison Michalski at amichalski@greateryellowstone.org.

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