"If my study observations hold true elsewhere, then red pepper spray residues on the spray canisters, field gear, or on foliage near camps or other human high-use areas may provide sites of interest to brown bears and consequently risk human safety," Smith warned. In back country areas where hikers and researchers may use the same location for extended times, continuing indiscriminate use of the spray could cumulatively create a potentially harmful situation for the next person who uses the campsite, Smith said. "We are concerned that if red pepper spray is used in this inappropriate manner, it may attract bears, result in property damage, or a confrontation."
The impetus for Smith's study came after he observed a brown bear rolling vigorously in beach gravel that had been inadvertently sprayed with red pepper spray five days previously. A surprised Smith watched bears on their backs, paws skyward, vigorously rubbing their heads and back in the red pepper-sprayed gravel. Before this observation, Smith had never seen brown bears behave in such an unusual manner.
Smith noted that red pepper spray is a stable, weather-resistant compound that apparently does not lose its attractant, or irritant, properties quickly. This suggests "that even a single discharge has the potential to attract brown bears for a significant amount of time," he said.
Smith's preliminary study involved spraying red pepper on gravels along
the Kulik River in Katmai National Park and then observing brown bear responses
to red pepper residues from a blind. He recorded both normal and abnormal bear
behavior at or near these study sites. In his pilot study, Smith said that brown
bears approached the treated sites 40 times, with the spray eliciting interest
Contact: Catherine Haecker
United States Geological Survey