Associated Press

BOZEMAN (AP) - The wounded mother grizzly that is struggling to survive and save her three cubs near Dupuyer might have been spared if the deer hunter who shot her had carried pepper spray, the Sierra Club says.

The Sierra Club wants the Forest Service to require everyone who enters a national forest in grizzly bear county to carry the spray, spokeswoman Heidi Godwin said in a news release.

"The proper use of bear pepper spray will reduce human injuries caused by bears, reduce the number of grizzly bears killed in self defense, and help promote the recovery and survival of the grizzly bear," Godwin said.

The deer hunter who wounded the sow on Nov. 19 west of Dupuyer apparently shot in self defense when the sow charged, state and federal wildlife investigators have said. He had crawled within 15 yards of the bears before he realized they were not deer.

Godwin said the sow was shot below the left eye, which remains closed, and her left side is partly paralyzed. She can move, but has stopped traveling toward her customary denning site in the mountains, and her survival is questionable, Godwin said.

State wildlife biologist Mike Madel was optimistic earlier this week that the sow's condition had improved and that her chances of survival were good.

Madel, who monitored the bears after the shooting, said the sow had continued to nurse the three cubs and later led them slowly toward the denning site, dragging her left feet.

Madel said the cubs probably would not survive the winter if the sow dies. She weighs about 500 pounds, is believed to be 16 years old, and has proven to be a good mother. Her death would be a blow to the effort to re-establish the grizzly population in this region.

Godwin said 15 grizzlies, four of them females, have been killed by humans in the area around Glacier National Park where the sow lives.

"Conflicts with hunters are the cause of 15 to 20 percent of all grizzly bear deaths in this area," she said. "In the Greater Yellowstone area it's 30 percent. Many of these incidents could have been avoided through education about responsible behavior in bear country."

The Sierra Club Web site has information about pepper spray and the grizzly bear recovery effort, Godwin said.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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