Bear Spray Inventor Chuck Jonkel Dies in Montana

The famed grizzly bear expert and inventor of bear spray Chuck Jonkel was remembered as a man who changed our relationship with bears. 

Bear spray is an essential item these days that most every backcountry hiker carries. Delivering a massive dose of pepper spray, a canister of bear spray is as common as a water bottle, especially in the National Parks. 

Back in the 1980s, Jonkel and a friend were looking for a non-lethal way to deter bears when they began testing pepper spray. The idea sparked numerous incarnations of bear spray that are now commonly sold at outdoor stores some 30 years later. 

Not only did bear spray keep people safe, it also may have educated a generation of bears to stay away from humans. Gary Moses, a ranger at Yellowstone National Park, supposes in a High Country News article that the number of bear maulings may be going down despite the increased visitors precisely because of bear spray. It’s the mothers that are teaching their cubs to stay away from the stuff and people have it. 

Besides inventing bear spray, Jonkel was a well-regarded grizzly bear expert who was last teaching at the University of Montana. He studied bears all over the world and was an outspoken critic of wildlife management in many cases earning him a reputation as a gadfly.

Jonkel died at the age of 85. At his funeral in April, he was remembered as a pioneer in grizzly bear research.

“Mr. Jonkel was truly a pioneer in grizzly bear science,” said Leanne Marten, Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region, according to the Missoulian. “Montana will miss him greatly. Everything we know about grizzly bears is due to Mr. Jonkel’s expertise.”

Photo credit: Great Bear Foundation