In a recent bear-aware presentation in Libby, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Bear Management Specialist Kim Annis extolled the virtues of electric fencing and other methods of making bears uncomfortable around homes.
“Bears are one-time learners,” Annis said. “Once they find a food source, they will never forget it. Prevention is the key.”
Annis said it may not be a good idea to keep bird feeders out in late spring and early summer. Black oil sunflower seeds are highly prized by bears. She said there are bear-resistant bins that are more expensive, but they do the job of keeping animals out of the trash.
Annis said that for people with chicken coops and beehives, surrounding them with an electric fence is a great way to avoid encounters with bears.
“Bears go into a hen house, no matter how well built it is,” Annis said. “It’s just too easy a meal to pass up. And of course honey is very popular with bears.
“We had a 600 pound grizzly bear on Snowshoe Road that came into the closets. The owner had an electric fence around them, but the batteries only worked during the day and the bear came in at night,” Annis said.
Annis said there are organizations that will help with the cost of installing a bear-proof fence.
The Missoula-based Defenders of Wildlife will help property owners in select counties design a barrier to keep bears out of things they shouldn’t, and they’ll reimburse 50% of the cost — up to $500.
In northwestern Montana, counties include Lincoln, Flathead, Sanders, Mineral, Lake, and Glacier. In northern Idaho, the eligible counties are Bonner, Boundary, and to the east of Washington, Pend Oreille.
Chuck Bartlebaugh of Be Bear Aware, a nonprofit bear education and safety organization, researches, tests, and promotes bear prevention products. He emphasizes the importance of doing careful homework before buying deterrent fences, and urges people to choose products that have been officially approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). He warns that in the quest to save weight, some products have also reduced reliability or simply don’t deliver enough voltage to convince a motivated bear to stay outside.
Annis says FWP also has a program where people can get a loaner fence for free to try it out.
Because she has such a strong feel for the subject, she has prepared a beginner’s guide to electric deterrent fencing. It can be found at https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/bear/be-bear-aware† Scroll down the page to the ‘electrified fence’ link.