- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — More people are living and playing in bear country in the West, and some entrepreneurs are turning a profit by keeping the two safely apart.

“Bears. That’s our livelihood,” said Pride Johnson, president of Counter Assault, a Kalispell, Mont.-based company that specializes in bear products.

Its top product: an industrial-size canister that can shoot a nonlethal pepper spray 30 feet, to discourage approaching bears — or stop charging ones.

It’s a growing niche business, he and others say, spurred by the increasing number of people in bear country and tighter regulations for storing food in the backcountry.

“People are looking at stronger, lighter ways to store food, and there’s also new work on electric fences” designed to keep bears at bay, said Jim Claar, carnivore program leader with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region in Missoula. “It’s a good trend.”

Though best known for its bear pepper spray, which sells for $38 a can, Counter Assault has branched out in response to other demands, Mr. Johnson said. For example, it introduced the Bear Keg recently.

The backpack-size food container weighs 3.1 pounds, has a lid that can be opened using keys or coins and sells for about $80. It is intended to keep human food away from bears, thus discouraging them from thinking of people as a food source.

Development of the Bear Keg, which took about 18 months, included testing at the Forest Service Missoula Technology and Development Center to simulate a grizzly’s efforts to open the container.

The testing program was authorized by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, a government panel. If a product passes the rigorous testing, it meets Forest Service food-storage requirements and can be certified bear-resistant for use in grizzly habitat in the lower 48 states.

In December, the committee endorsed a real-life testing program that, among other things, uses captive bears from the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Mont.

UnBearAble Bins Inc., which has offices in Canada and Montana, had its 95-gallon plastic trash bins tested at the center.

“You could see where there were tooth marks — but there were no holes — and where they ripped off wheels,” said Derek Reich, a partner in the business. “But it was totally functional.”

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