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Secretary Salazar Calls for Review Of Gun Rules in National Parks


The rule change to allow national park visitors to arm themselves is starting to develop an administrative life of its own much like the Yellowstone snowmobile issue.

The latest news is that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has asked the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to spend three months looking into the environmental consequences of allowing national park visitors to arm themselves.

This review will be conducted against the backdrop of a legal battle over the rule change.


I may be a wildlife biologist or ethnologist. You do not know. I asked questions and thanked you for the links. As I said east coast NPS park info does not warn about charges and we only have black bears. I have traveled the back country for 40 years and have never met a bear in a hostile encounter. I have seen their scat and heard them at night while backpacking. I have had more problems with deer and turkey running into tents at night, and skunks who search campgrounds.

So I wondered about the number of bluff charges and if this is a rare or western behavior and if the charges are becoming more common or not. The numbers of bears in western parks are higher and that may lead to more conflicts between visitors, but again western parks are much larger and most visitors stick to the public areas.

Since many here have described this behavior I wondered if any have expereienced it. Your links indicated it is very rare and a dangerous behavior. I certainly am not an expert on bear behavior but like any animal it will defend it's territory and young and search for food. Bears have associated people with food and that leads to problems. People in the backcountry bring food and bears can get accustom to searching out people for food. The recent warning about leaving the shoes outside the tent to allow bears to check out shoes and not tear open a tent is a problem for backpackers since they generally only carry one set of boots.

On research most bear attacks have been on National Forest land where people already have the right and there has not been people shooting bears unjustified. So this fear of CCW holders being scared and shooting bear is overblown. Most hikers in the backcountry try to keep their distance from bears.

I know a personal case where the person was portaging and encountered a black bear that attacked his dog and him and tried to block his escape to the river. The person had a knife and did manage to kill the bear with that and got to the river and was taken with dog to medical help. That was not a bluff but was a hostile encounter.

A handgun is very poor weapon to defend against a bear. It mostly can anger them and should only be used at dire circumstances. Most people who use and practice with guns are very aware of that.

I have read the warnings about bears and dogs in Yosemite and how the dogs often lead the bear to the owner. That is a concern and because of that I decided not to go to Yosemite a couple of years ago. I like to camp in NPS and bring my dogs with me. So I do pay attention to warnings to keep my family , dogs and wildife safe.

I am not CCW holder and so this rule does not apply to me. I abide the rules about guns if I have them and keep them secured. Mostly I do not travel with them, though I have sometimes. Depends if we plan to go to ranges or not. Ny travel with guns is generally only for 2 legged predators and not for NPS lands. But I still support the right to carry in NPS and would prefer it not to be limited to only conceal carry.

CCW has been allowed in NF and has not been a problem so I do not expect a proplem in NPS. Just seems to be a lot of fear about guns that is overblown.

So you have become a wildlife biologist or an ethologist by now? Please don't interpret the facts, just accept them in the first place. Bluff charges are real, they happen much more often than real charges and not only bears use them.

Next point: The backcountry belong to them, we are just visiting their realm. So your claim that every bear that ever bluff charges is dangerous to man and you can kill him or her is inacceptable. If you are afraid of wildlife and think you need a gun to venture into wildernes, just don't go into a National Parks backcountry. It is perfectly fine not to go into places where we don't feel safe.

MRC, Thanks for the links. If I interpreted the bear info it indicates that bluff charges are rare and considered 'encounters" that should be reported. It also says what to do if the charge turns from bluff to real. Which is curl up and offer no resistance. But the advice if how to resist a bear attack to a tent is quite different and indicates to fight back any way possible. So if a bear charges and attacks why should we not take the advice that is given for a tent attack? Any bear that charges a human is dangerous. It seems that bear charges can lead to real charges if the bear gets in the habit of doing bluff charge. Adverse conditioning seems indictated in bluff charges like loud noise ,large size and maybe pulling a gun to shoot if the bear continues the charge. That is if you have enough time.

As to your expereince with the moose, that behavior in herd animals is common to protect young and usualy will swerve away. I have had horses for decades and they act the same. I would expect a bear to charge if I got too close to a cub or between mom and cub. I still would like the ability to defend myself if the bear means business.

Yes, I was asking if any here have had a bluff charge? The moose charge is not quite the same since moose are not predators. Bears and cougars are predators.

Also any info on how to distinguish from a bluff to a real charge before you allow contact?

Like I said east coast advice does not talk about bluff charges and is not normal bear behavior and any deliberate approach of a bear to a human is considered dangerous.

I have heard that grizzlies being more aggresive will charge, but I do not believe that I have to suffer a charge and an attack before defending myself.

If bear bluff charegs are as rare as indicated then the numbers of violant encounters between a bear and a CCW holder would be rare indeed and would not be a significant enviromental impact.

I'm not sure, if I get your intention right. Do you expect us to provide eye witness accounts of bluff charging to assure you that the NPS does not simply makes this animal behavior up in their:

* Bear management glossary of Denali National Park

*Backcountry trip planner of Yellowstone NP

* Bear encounter advice of Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP

and the
* Bear fact sheet of Yosemite NP

Or those scholars in their unreliable scientific publications like
* Jacobs, Schoeder of West Virginia University: "Managing brown bears and wilderness recreation on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA" in: Environmental Management, Volume 16, Number 2 / March, 1992 p 249

or on some other species:
"Inhibition of social behavior in chimpanzees under high-density conditions" in: American journal of primatology 1997, vol. 41, no3, pp. 213-228 (1 p.1/4)

But hey, if you need eye witness accounts, I can provide you with one or two. I witnessed a female moose bluff charging a tourist in gaudy clothing, who ventured too close to the moose's newborn in Yellowstone NP, just outside of Norris a number years ago. It was a fantastic situation to encounter a newborn moose calf making its first steps and while I observed and took some photos with a 300mm telephoto lens, this idiot walked in to take a portrait of the calf with his compact camera and a 35mm wide angle. We have to be glad he did not use a flash. On the same trip a buffalo took an aggressive stand against another tourist, ready to charge any second if anything more had happened.

Is that enough for you?

I read hear about "bluff charges" personally I think any animal that chooses to charge a human is dangerous and does not show the proper fear and respect that a human should engender. I have read multiple stories about people hurt and killed by bears and the increasing number of black bear attacks.

Now if I charge an animal I certainly expect that animal to defend itself, like wise with a human. What I would like to know among the posters here who talk abouth the commonality of bluff charges, is have they ever had that happen to them?

I live in the east and bears are not common but are slowly moving into the Washington DC area. More counties in theingwest are having increase bear populations and intrusions on property and homes. Most of these the bear is run off. If a bear makes it a habit he is relocated or killed. This is not on park grounds. In Shenadoah the campground Big Meadows used to have the dumpsters out and people would watch them in the 1970's. We still did not have a problem with hostile encounters. Later NPS decided that was a bad idea and took away the dumpsters.

I have been camping in parks and have seen the bear damage and the bears in campgrounds after dark. They chased some campers away. Since we had dogs and this was state park with excellent trash removal at 8 pm in WV, we did not have any trouble with bears trying to get into the coolers in the cars. I have found that the skunks will also be wary when you have dogs with you and not be as ambitious to intimidate in order to get food. Skunks and bears are creatures of habit , if they find food they came back.

However in the Smokeys and other NPS parks on the east coast the rangers never talk about " bluff charges". Mostly they say make noise and try to scare a bear away. Most bears avoid humans and vice versa.

So I have read about the tendancy of a "bluff charge" out west but if a bear attacks me I think it is too late to realize it was bluff. It would be difficult to tell if a bear or cougar charges the intention are truly hostile or not. They are too strong to allow them closer than 5 feet and that is still too close.

I would take my chances with dogs charging but a bear is too big to and once they strike you may be too damaged to defend youself. pepper spray is the preferred method of scaring off a bear.

I have no desire to hurt any animal but why should I allow a bear or cougar to harm me? Now the rarity of animal attacks does not require that I have to have a gun with me. But my main concern is the rare risk of human rather than animal predators. The human predator is a higher risk in wild forests and parks.

If I am in an area that has a higher tendancies of dangerous animals and I am in the back country then I may want to carry a weapon but weapon carry is a hassle and I want the ability to choose to carry if I feel it is a better idea or not.

Unless there is any studies that indicate the higher numbers of people shooting bears and cougars without need then give the evidence. Otherwise the argument that CCW is going to increase the number of shot bears seems to be a red herring.

Alos please cite the " bluff charges" and if any here has expereinced that.

Anon #1..way up on top: You so well illustrate one of my main points in arguing against guns in parks. May I quote you: "To the chagrin of those who flap their arms in panic at the thought, I don't know one person that visited a park WITHOUT a concealed firearm. This was before CCW holders were allowed to." Arguements of gun advocates nearly always begin with, "Law abiding citizens should have the right to blah, blah, blah..." Then we have statements such as yours which prove that all CCW holders are not law abiding citizens. If you carry where it is illegal to do so, you are not a law abiding citizen. Plain and simple. People drive forty in twenty five mph school zones. Always have, always will. People rob banks. Always have, always will. People cheat on their taxes. Always have, always will. Does that mean that we should make these all legal?
From 1980-2002, over 62 million people visited Yellowstone National Park (YNP). During the same period, 32 people were injured by bears. The chance of being injured by a bear while in the park is approximately 1 in 1.9 million. Only five people have ever been killed by a bear in Yellowstone. The last in 1986. At least two of those individuals were breaking the law at the time, possibly more. From 1980 through 1995 a grand total of 17 people in all of North America (including Alaska and Canada) were killed by bears (black and grizzly). During the same period over 1300 people died in the US alone of lightening strike. I would submit, Ginger, that as a mother of six and grandmother of seven, your risk while hiking in Yellowstone is far greater that you will be struck by lightening, or that you will slip crossing a stream and drown or that you will die in an automobile accident on the way to Yellowstone, than your risk of being killed by a bear. These, however, seem to be risks that you are willing to take. I further submit that, in an actural bear attack (real or bluff) that you would be lucky to have time to use your bear spray; much less use it, realize that it had failed to stop the bear, then pull out your concealed firearm, take aim and fire. And therein lies the rub. Most folks with common sense would realize this and grab the gun first; especially someone with little experience around bears. With spray, even if it was a bluff, no harm is done. Most likely (and there are always exceptions, but they exist with guns as well), the bear will get a face full of pepper and run off. On the other hand, a bear injured with a gun could be very dangerous. What was a bluff charge could instantly turn deadly; for the hiker, the bear or both. Also bear spray can be fired from the hip without aiming. Unless you are breaking the law a concealed weapon is, well, concealed....under clothing, in your pack etc.
Concealed weapons permits are not for people "afraid of their own shadow", they are for people who transport large sums of money, work in law enforcement or have some other reason to need that added security. I do think, however, that someone who feels that they need to carry everywhere they go, even on vacation to a National Park, may be a tiny bit paranoid.

@MRC....I beg your pardon! You really think that peole who have a CCW license are "people who are afraid of their own shadow", blah, blah, blah. I can usually handle the fact that people disagree with my right to carry a gun, after all everyone is entitled to their opinion, but then there always seems to be someone who takes it upon themselves to not only disagree but denigrate those whom he disagrees with. My husband and I have been going to Yellowstone for 15 years and usually I feel the need to carry more here at home than I do in the park. But, if I am allowed to carry in the park it would probably only be on the long hikes that my husband and I like to take, and if, and I mean if, we run into a bear who decides to charge us he will first get the pepper spray and if that doesn't work then you can bet I won't hesitate to use other means of force. I am a mother of six and grandmother of seven and I resent sanctimonious people who think that they can just pigeon hole everyone according to their standards.

@RAH: We had that before: Many animals are well known for "bluff charges". That is particularly true for black bears and grizzlies. When they charge an intruder in their comfort zone, they intend to scare you away, not kill. Actual attacks in the National Park System happen a few a year, bluff charges every day. Those law abiding CCW carriers are people who are afraid of their own shadow, people who perceive their live and environment to be full of deadly dangers, and they feel not only entitled, but obliged to protect themselves, their loved ones and every one else from these perceived threads.

I see a real danger, that those self proclaimed protectors of the universe will whip out the guns when they encounter a charging bear. And guess what, instead of a bear who defends his realm by a bluff charge and a human who retreats full of respect,we will have a very angry bear, because it doesn't like those hot needle wounds at all and probably a dead human defender of the universe. Because a gun you can carry concealed is useless against a bear who really means it.

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