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Electric Fencing Is A Solution For Bear Problems

June 3, 2011 | by Diane Tipton

Damage by bear in Troy, Montana

It is a quiet summer night. Your kids have just made their last trip into the house and back outside to sleep in their tree house.

As you shut off the lights there is suddenly a commotion outdoors. You flip on the flood light you've rigged to light up your backyard. The kids are still in the tree house—but a huge black bear is ripping into a nearby shed where you store grain for your 30 chickens. The bear has the door nearly torn off of the shed.

This isn't the first time your chickens have attracted a bear. Your gun is loaded with fire cracker shells that rip into the night frightening the kids. The bear retreats, inexplicably making off with a case of toilet paper also stored in the shed.

This and a series of similar incidents convinced the Cook family of Troy to erect an electric fence around the perimeter of their property last fall.

Barbara Cook said so far it appears bears have walked along the fence and then moved off. Only a deer has challenged it and broken one of the wires.

"We will have to do some repair and upkeep, but that will be minor in comparison to the peace we've gained—no more grizzly bears 12 feet from the house," she said. "Our local Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear biologist, Kim Annis, was very helpful during the planning and construction phases."

"Electric fences have been the greatest achievement in terms of reducing chicken, beehive and sheep depredation," said Mike Madel, FWP bear management specialist in Choteau.

"Wherever sheep occur in grizzly habitat it is only a matter of time before the bears will locate them. Sheep use common bedding grounds that become saturated with scent and are very easy for bears to find.

"We've worked up and down the Rocky Mountain Front with landowners to get electric fencing around sheep bedding grounds," Madel said.

One livestock owner north of Choteau is installing electric fence around several hundred acres of sheep pasture. There are some nonprofit organizations interested in reducing bear depredation that sometimes match funds with livestock producers, and there are also matching funds available through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Madel said.

"We have more folks than ever raising chickens, goats and pigs and we are seeing a response from predators of all kinds to these new opportunities for them," said Jamie Jonkel, FWP bear manager in Missoula. "If you are making an investment in chickens or other livestock, erecting an electric fence is simply the right thing to do."

Those interested in putting up an electric fence have a lot of resources to turn to locally and on the Internet. An easy to follow guide for beginners is available on our Be Bear Aware  page. It is titled Bears and Electric Fencing: A Starter's Guide For Using Electric Fencing To Deter Bears. The brochure includes contact information for FWP's regional bear managers who are equipped to assist landowners in planning electric fences to prevent bear depredations.