An association of Wyoming big-game outfitters is working with workforce safety regulators to develop best-practice guidelines for hunting in grizzly bear country.
The coordination between the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association and the Wyoming office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration directly stems from the death of Jackson Hole resident and hunting guide Mark Uptain, who was preparing to pack out a client’s elk for Martin Outfitters in September when he was fatally mauled in the Teton Wilderness. Park County commissioner and hunting guide Lee Livingston spoke about the partnership Thursday at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meeting in Bozeman, Montana.
“We’re going to come up with a standard protocol for grizzly bear training, bear-spray training for all of our employees,” Livingston told his fellow committee members from regional land and wildlife management agencies.
“I’ve done it for years, and I’ve required my guides and hunters to have bear spray with them,” he said. “We’re going to take it one step further as an association and come up with some sort of standard protocol for the industry and possibly the hunting public.”
Commercial hunting outfitters who are permitted to operate on national forests like the Bridger-Teton already must acquire safety-related certifications, he said, like first-aid cards that must be renewed every two years.
“We’re thinking this might be something along those lines,” Livingston said. “We’re going to be talking to the state agencies about [getting] their help; we’re going to be talking to the Forest Service.”
Wyoming OSHA investigators did not fault Martin Outfitters for training-, preparedness- or manpower-related factors in Uptain’s death, though the Moran business was issued a proposed $5,000 penalty for not reporting the high-profile death within eight hours.
There is a precedent, however, for Wyoming OSHA coming down on employers for bear safety-related factors in human deaths. In 2015, the environmental consulting firm Nature’s Capital was penalized more than $15,000 in proposed fines after employee Adam Stewart was fatally mauled while assessing vegetation plots in the Bridger-Teton National Forest backcountry. Stewart, who was hiking alone, did not carry a defense mechanism like bear spray or a firearm.
“The hazard contributed to the death of an employee due to not implementing the industry-recognized practices to avoid bear contact,” the citation papers said.
While developing standardized guidelines for hunting in grizzly bear country would make it easier for OSHA to fault outfitters after fatalities or injuries, Livingston said that was not a concern.
“Our concern is about the safety of our employees,” he said in an interview. “You can’t let citations be a fear. Our thought is that this is a workplace issue and OSHA was an obvious place to start on being proactive on what can we do. This is also to protect us as business owners.”
Other members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee applauded the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association’s plans to develop safety standards. Jim White, a regional supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the effort was “spot on,” but he was leery of singling out hunters.
“If you were to do something legislatively or by rule as far as requiring spray,” White said, “I think you have to be cautious about doing that with one user group, or one activity versus another one, where a person walking down a trail with a gun has to have bear spray and a person walking with a backpack doesn’t.”