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How warm is it? First griz emerges from den to see

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  The first confirmed report of grizzly bear activity this year in Yellowstone occurred on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, as a grizzly bear that had emerged from its den was observed scavenging on a bison carcass in the central portion of the park, the Billings Gazette reports.

Unseasonably warm temperatures in the region have created a new normal:  Snowmobilers are being warned to carry bear spray.

With bears emerging from hibernation, hikers, skiers and snowshoers also are advised to stay in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

The bear that left its den this week is at the very early range of bear emergence, according to published research on bear denning in Yellowstone:

Earliest den emergence for males occurred during the first week of February, with 90% of males out of dens by the fourth week of April. Earliest den emergence for females occurred during the third week of March; by the first week of May, 90% of females had emerged.

Male bears emerged from dens earlier than females. Denning period differed among classes and averaged 171 days for females that emerged from dens with cubs, 151 days for other females, and 131 days for males. Known pregnant females tended to den at higher elevations and, following emergence, remained at higher elevation until late May.

Gearing up for a hike in griz country? Read this first

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BACKPACKING — If you're thinking about packing a gun on your next hike into Yellowstone, Glacier Park or other areas of grizzly bear habitat, read this story first.

Then check out the video above on how to effectively use bear spray.

Bear awareness needed during big-game hunts

HUNTING — Bears are still out and active throughout the fall as hunters are out for deer and elk hunting — a potentially hazardous mix. 

Being bear aware is particularly important for hunters because stalking and harvesting game increases a person’s chance of bumping into bears, says Jamie Jonkel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear management specialist.

“When travelling through dense brush or field dressing an animal, be extra aware and do what you can to warn wildlife of your presence,” Jonkel says.  “Always have bear spray close at hand.”

Jonkel says this has been an especially busy fall for grizzly bear activity, especially in Western Montana.

He offers these safety tips for hunting in bear country:

  • Always carry bear spray, have it within easy reach and know how to use it.
  • If you are going to be alone in bear country, let someone know your plans.
  • Watch for fresh bear sign.
  • After making a kill, get the carcass out of the area as quickly as possible.
  • When field dressing the carcass, keep your can of bear spray within easy reach.
  • Use special precautions if you must leave and return to a carcass, including   placing the carcass where you can observe it from a distance when you return.
  • Do not attempt to frighten away or haze a bear that is near or feeding on a carcass

Check the Deer, Elk and Antelope Hunting regulations available online and at FWP offices, or go to FWP’s Living with Wildlife web page for more information on hunting in bear country.

Hot news: Keep bear spray where the sun don’t shine

CAMPING — "Bear spray left in car. Becomes bomb. Very impressive."

That's a post  with the photo above from Hal Herring in Montana, who performed an unintentional science experiment by leaving a canister of bear spray in the back of his Subaru open to direct exposure to the hot summer sun.

Manufacturers say aerosol cans can burst above temps of 120-130 degrees.  But the main thing is that the canisters should always be covered — in a duffle, in an uncooled cooler, wraped in a towel under the seat of a car, but NEVER left to the full intensity of the summer sun in an enclosed vehicle.

"Check out the super shred on that bear spray holster…reckon there was a little force there?" Herring notes.

With bear spray in pack, woman suffers bites from grizzly

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS —  The recent story of a bear protecting its cubs in the presense of humans calls for a review of basic procedures for walking in bear country:

  1. Bear spray is an effective deterrent to bear attacks.
  2. Bear spray is useless if not immediately accessible when a bear is encountered.

In Montana and Idaho, grizzlies are especially active this time of year looking for berries to put on fat for the winter, as displayed in the photo above snapped last week by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Hikers and especially stealthy hunters, such as archers, should be prepared for bear encounters during fall.

See a video on using bear spray effectively

See more tips for especially for hunting and fishing in bear country.

Accused bear spray robber gets $10,000 bond

The man accused of using bear spray to commit two robberies was ordered held on a $10,000 bond for a companion charge of assault.

Jeffrey M. Matthews, 29, appeared Friday before Superior Court Judge Annette Plese. However, documents had not yet arrived regarding two other robberies for which he was arrested.

Matthews was also wanted for a violation of probation for his manslaughter conviction from 2007.

 He was charged with third-degree assault after an employee at O’Reilly Auto Parts, at 2424 N. Division St., said a car drove into the parking lot last Tuesday. The driver, later identified as Matthews, began yelling at the employee and then sprayed him with the can of bear spray.

 The same vehicle was lined to two reported robberies on Friday and Saturday at the Trading Co., 13014 E. Sprague Ave., and Big Lots, 14024 E. Sprague Ave., in Spokane Valley. However, those charging documents had not yet arrived Thursday afternoon.

 Plese set Matthews arraignment at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. See previous coverage of Matthews here.

Another study verifies bear spray beats guns

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — A Brigham Young University study has supported previous research indicating that bear spray is a more effective deterrant to a grizzly bear attack than a gun.

See the story about the research in the Billings Gazette.

See my story package on the use of bear spray plus a video on how to use bear spray effectively.

Egan: Sometimes, The Bear Gets You

“You should not hike alone without bear spray,” a ranger says. This is more imperative than suggestive. “The bears are active right now. They’ve re-colonized areas where they used to roam.” Wyoming has about 600 grizzlies. I tell her I’ve never hiked with bear spray, but the ranger is insistent. I go to one park store, and then another, but find the shelves empty. There’s been a run on bear spray. Finally, after calling around, a clerk finds the cylinder that will provide an illusion of comfort, the last one available. When a grizzly (capable of top speeds of 30 miles an hour) charges, you are supposed to stand your ground, flip the safety from the top, point and spray. This fog made of the essence of hot cayenne peppers is apparently enough to send a 500-pound mammal back in cowering retreat. So it says. But the bear spray is $52. Mmmmm. That seems confiscatory. But no, it’s the going rate. So, quick math: how much is a life worth? And, how stupid would I be to give it up for want of $52/Timothy Egan, New York Times. More here. (AP file photo — of Yellowstone bear)

Question: How much do you rely on bear spray in grizzly country?

Bear spray worked for bowhunters

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — It's worth emphasizing that an Idaho archer was able to end a grizzly attack on his bowhunting partner on Saturday by using pepper spray, an essential that should be on the pack straps of every hunters in grizzly country.

The elk hunter who apparently stumbled across a bear’s resting spot and was hospitalized after the animal bit him and broke his right arm, officials said.

Richard Paini, 40, suffered puncture wounds and an injured left hand along with the broken forearm in the attack at about 9 a.m. He was taken to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

A hospital spokesman said Paini, of Island Park, was listed in serious condition Saturday afternoon.

The bear involved in the attack fled after Paini’s archery hunting partner, John Stiehl of Island Park, used bear spray to scare off the bear. Stiehl told authorities he believed it was a grizzly bear.

Gregg Losinski, an Idaho Fish and Game bear specialist, said hunters are at more risk of surprising bears because they are understandably being stealthy when they're in the woods.

Learn about bear spray and more at “Be Bear Aware” exhibit

WILDLIFE — A “Be Bear Aware” educational trailer – and a chance to be trained on using bear spray – will be open Monday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department office, 2315 N. Discovery Pl. in Spokane Valley.

Robber sentenced for bear mace attack

A man who robbed a Spokane convenience store with bear mace was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree robbery.

Daniel A. Sweetland, 21, was accused with Alexander J. Smith of robbing the Zip Trip at 1523 W. 10th Ave., of an 18-pack of Bud Lite on Nov. 28 after spraying the clerk with mace.

The clerk suffered eye pain and blurry visions for about two days after the attack attack, police said. Spokane police detectives identified the men through tips obtained after a surveillance video of the attack was released to media.

They were arrested Feb. 16. Smith was released from jail on $30,000 bond March 3 and is scheduled for trial on April 18.

Sweetland pleaded guilty on Friday and was sentenced to 12 months in jail and ordered to pay $1,623 restitution. He'll be credited for 30 days already served and for four months counted under the jail's good time policy.

Sweetland is also banned from all Zip Trips in Washington for 10 years. Sweetland has convictions as a juvenile for burglary, malicious mischief, criminal trespass and reckless burning. The last conviction was related to a fire that gutted the historic Clayton Grange Hall.

Suspects ID’d in Zip Trip mace attack

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UPDATE: Sweetland and Smith were arrested on Feb. 16.

Spokane police have identified two suspects in a convenience store robbery in which a clerk was attacked with bear mace.

 Crime Stoppers issued a reward offer today for tips that helps arrest Daniel A. Sweetland (left) and Alexander J. Smith (right), both 21, who are wanted for first-degree robbery.

Detectives identified the men through tips obtained after a surveillance video of the Nov. 28 attack at Zip Trip, 1523 W. 10th Ave., was released to media (see above).

They believe Smith entered the store first and asked for cigarettes to distract the clerk while Sweetland entered with the mace and stole an 18-pack of Bud Lite, according to court documents filed Friday. The clerk suffered eye pain and blurry visions for about two days after Sweetland's attack, police said.

Sweetland, 5-foot-5 and 145 pounds, has a 13-year arrest history but no convictions, according to Crime Stoppers. Smith, 5-foot-4 and 160 pounds, has an 11-year arrest history but also no convictions.

Sweetland last gave an address in the 700 block of East Heroy Avenue in Spokane Valley. Smith last gave an address in the 900 block of East Central Avenue in Spokane.

Anyone with information on their location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.

Video shows Zip Trip bear spray assault

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Spokane police are looking for a man who assaulted a Zip Trip store clerk with bear spray early Sunday morning.  

Surveillance video shows a masked man in a hooded, brown and tannish plaid jacket spray the cashier in the face at 2:47 a.m. Police say he entered and attacked after another man entered the store at 1523 W. 10th Ave. and asked for cigarettes.That man is pictured at the end of the video wearing a striped hooded sweatshirt and red hat.

The men both ran from the store after the clerk was assaulted. The man in the striped hooded sweatshirt is described as 5-foot-6 with a medium building, brown hair mustache and beard. The assailant is about 5-foot-10 with a white mask and plaid jacket, police said.

Anyone with information on the men is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.