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Electric fence one solution for bears

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Lara Belice, a school teacher in Cooke City, works on the construction of an electric fence around the community compost site. The fence, which was funded by Defenders of Wildlife and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, was installed to deter bears from getting into the compost. PHOTO BY RUSS TALMO

By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR

BOZEMAN – When a black bear steals pizza from a plate at an outdoor restaurant, as occurred in Big Sky on Sept. 17, it may seem humorous at first. And it could sound funny to say the same bear tried to enter the Wilson Hotel through the automatic doors. Or maybe it’s living on the edge, an exciting phenomenon of living in bear country.

But when a bear exhibits this kind of behavior—and shows no natural wariness of humans—Russ Talmo equates that pizza with a dead bear.

“It’s not necessarily a bear’s fault if the landscape is littered with these things,” he said. “But me leaving my dog food on the porch is going to kill a bear. You don’t necessarily make that connection until it happens.”

After repeatedly dogging human development over the course of a week in the Big Sky area, the pizza-stealing black bear was euthanized on Sept. 23 by wildlife officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. According to a press release sent by the department, officials felt the bear was too habituated to humans to be relocated.

“It is sad and frustrating anytime a bear has a to be removed from the population due to conflict with humans, because most of these types of conflicts involving backyard attractants like trash, fruit trees, chickens and other small livestock are easily preventable,” Talmo said, adding that preventative measures can be catered to a specific need.

“Anytime you’re putting an attractant in a [bear-dense] area … any due diligence to take the step to secure the attractant is forward thinking.”

One option might be to opt for bear-resistant trash cans and use them scrupulously. Another might be to get rid of the bird feeders. Or, depending on the attractant, it could work to install an electric fence.

Talmo, the Rockies and Plains Program Associate for the national conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife, is the leader for the organization’s electric fence incentive program and recently completed a project in Cooke City with the very goal of preventing bears from getting too comfortable with people.

In mid-September, Talmo spent an afternoon installing a small electric fence around the community compost pile, working in partnership with the Cooke City elementary and middle schools. He said he’s pleased with how it turned out, and based on statistics, he expects it will work.

His team conducted a survey of about half the 350 fence projects Defenders of Wildlife has installed since 2010, and of those, 95 percent are still in use. Ninety-eight percent of those in use have been effective and a bear conflict has not occurred, he said, and the 2 percent that did have a bear incident were either not turned on or not maintained.

Defenders of Wildlife offers a cost-share incentive program that will reimburse 50 percent of the cost of an electric fence up to $500 for securing any bear attractant. This includes garbage sites, fruit trees and gardens. Often times, Talmo said smaller projects fall into the $300 range, such as for a small beehive or orchard, and on a case-by-case basis they may seek additional funding support from partners like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Talmo works with property owners through every step of the process, from fence design and material selection to installation and maintenance.

“it is a time-tested tool that works very well and it’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s pretty straight forward.”

Visit defenders.org/got-grizzlies for more information.

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