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The bear spray wars, and the uncertain science of weather prediction



As if the hunt for the elusive Bitterroot grizzly weren’t a spicy enough topic, another salvo has been fired in the ongoing battle over bear repellents. On Nov. 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Stop Sale Order to Missoula-based ChemArmor, makers of Bear Pause bear spray and asked its distributors to pull the product off their shelves saying, in effect, that it may not be an effective deterrent for preventing the average hiker, hunter or camper from becoming grizzly chow. This week, in response, ChemArmor issued a statement of their own, reasserting the effectiveness of Bear Pause and its active ingredient, capsaicin, a pharmaceutical grade of the compound in hot peppers that in cartoon parlance turns your face beet red and makes steam shoot from your ears with a shrill, train whistle burst.

According to ChemArmor’s President Katie Dwire, the EPA’s action was based on complaints from their competitors that are “totally unfounded and based on false information given by an ‘independent’ lab that so happens to also be a broker of Food Grade OC,” the active ingredient used by ChemArmor’s competition. Dwire stresses that Bear Pause uses only 99 percent pure capsaicin in their products, while all other bear sprays use the food grade oleoresin capsaicin (OC), the chemical that flavors taco sauce and other south-of-the-border delicacies. Frankly, any dispute over the efficacy of these pepper sprays could have been resolved decisively last week at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, where Seattle Police burned through gallons of the stuff on hapless anti-WTO protesters, including some already behind bars. No quiero taco cell!


Hot enough for ya? For us surly staffers at the Independent, Tuesday night’s much-anticipated snowfall only served as a reminder of how darned warm and dry the season had been until now. I mean, no snow at all until the second week of December? What’s up with that? Which got us to wondering: Just what are the experts predicting for us in terms of winter weather? And who are these experts? And what’s their racket anyway? Well, according to our lunch-time online research, in terms of reliability, traditional methods of weather prediction fall somewhere between telephone psychic readings and phrenology in terms of overall reliability.

To wit, we contacted our friends at America’s traditional source for meteorological prognostication, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, thinking we’d get the facts delivered in that crisp, clear, quaint way we like. Instead, all we got was static. For instance, for the Rocky Mountain region, the Almanackers forecast a winter that will be “colder and drier than usual.” Drier we’ll buy, but colder? Last year at this time is was 25 below, remember? To make matters more confusing, they go on to say that this extra-dry winter will bring “near- to above-normal snowfall.” Zuh? Then they go on to foretell, after the fact, that our region would receive “a blizzard” in late November. Well, that’s what you get when you gauge the elements with such stuff as trick knees and chicken gizzards.

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