Electric fences are now being used to ward off bears in Lincoln County – and for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ bear management specialist Kim Annis, the fences are an effective way to prevent conflicts with people.
The fences have already been installed at two Libby homes, Annis said.
Annis said electric fencing is one of her primary tools in resolving bear conflicts in the area because they are simple and effective. Residents living in bear country can use fencing by participating in a loan program that allows for the use of a temporary electric fence for the spring, summer or fall seasons. Prior bear conflicts are not necessary to obtain a fence, as the goal is prevention not correction.
“We work for the residents and the bears,” Annis said. “We don’t want to chase conflicts around as they happen, but prevent them before they do. Electric fencing does work and it can work for more situations than people may be aware of.”
The loan program may be a temporary source of prevention; however, through the efforts of the Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit organization, a long-term solution is available. Defenders of Wildlife will reimburse 50 percent of costs associated with electric fencing used to protect bear attractants, with a limit of $500. The organization has helped more than 100 residents with fences in the past four years.
Libby resident, Joel Chandler, had a fence installed by Annis three weeks ago. Chandler doesn’t have fully enclosed indoor location to store his trash, so Annis loaned and installed a 50-foot electrified net fence and energizer for bear prevention.
“The fence works great,” Chandler said. “It went from a constant problem to no problem at all.”
While more people are becoming aware of the electric fencing program, the reason for the program is perhaps the most important preventative measure.
“Bears are one-time learners,” Annis said. “All it takes is for them to get into a person’s trash, one time, and they know they can get it again. It is like learning your ABC’s, once you know it, you know it.”
With bears learning and adapting to easily accessible food sources, such as trash and fruit trees, the level of conflict rises. As bears continually find food sources near residences, they move closer to the homes and create potentially dangerous situations. Bears that constantly appear near residences are often euthanized, which leaves the issue unresolved as other bears will be attracted to the same food sources.
“Getting rid of the bears is not the solution, it’s a band aid,” Annis said. “Another bear will find the trash and start the same process over again. The only way to keep bears wild is to prevent this situation in the first place.”
Fruit trees, gardens, garbage containers, dog kennels, chicken coops, compost piles and storage sheds are all typical bear attractants. Some of these attractants, such as trees and livestock cannot be moved to prevent bears from accessing them, hence the need for electric fencing. Fencing can be created and set up in numerous ways that make it usable for almost any area.
Erin Edge, a Defenders of Wildlife representative, wrote about the possibility of peace between humans and bears in a commentary published in the Western News earlier this summer.
“With a little effort it is possible for both bears and people to live together on this land,” Edge said. “Electric fencing allows bears to move through western Montana without coming into conflict and keeps people and their property safe.”
Every situation is handled differently when Annis is called to assess potential or present bear conflicts. However, the goal of bear prevention conflict techniques remains the same - to protect both bears and humans.