A shocking bear prevention tool

The latest in a series of ecology-related articles by Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar

Courtenay Ferguson (left) and Sarah Fassina are second-year Recreation

For a long time ranchers have been using electric fences to confine livestock so they won’t go looking for greener pasture. But how about keeping hungry predators out? With a similar system but with a stronger kick, electric fencing is now considered a more effective strategy to help us to keep hungry bears out of our backyards.

In the Kootenay’s, bears are a common sight especially to residents who have fruit trees or gardens. The problem here is that bears are becoming accustomed to these human-populated areas, knowing they will be able to get an easy meal. Whether you have animals, a garden or compost, electric fencing is a shockingly simple, cost friendly, and effective way to prevent and discourage bears from coming onto your property.

An electric fence can be set up as a permanent or temporary structure. A few posts in the ground and a couple of bare wires going from post to post and hooked up to an electrical source. The electricity can come from a battery, a regular electrical outlet, or even from a solar panel, which would be the most environmentally friendly option. The fence functions like an open circuit in which electric pulses are sent to the wires. The moment the bear touches a charged wire, the circuit closes and the animal gets shocked. Since bears are fast learners, you can be sure they’ll understand that it’s better to find food somewhere else than risk being shocked again.

This is an important point; bears will learn where to go and where not to go. Another option to deal with problem bears is to remove them. If you remove the problem bear, soon enough there will be another bear to take its place. Teaching a bear means you don’t have to worry about the problem returning, you have an educated resident bear that will keep any other new bears out of the area and keep them from going after what you have behind the electric fence.

A homemade electric fence is an investment of $350 to $500, depending on size, that is cost effective to protect our goods as well as the bears. It’s fairly straight forward to set up and relatively easy to maintain. According to Bear Aware and electric fencing specialist Gillian Sander, although it is relatively easy to set up, it is very important to install it properly.  An improperly installed fence will allow a bear to avoid the shock or provides an ineffective shock.  For this reason, help and advice are available from many of the electric fence suppliers as well as the Bear Aware experts in your area.

People are starting to change their attitudes towards dealing with wildlife, being proactive instead of reactive. Gillian feels folks in Creston and Kaslo have learned to automatically install an electric fence as soon as they decide to have fruit trees or animals. Bear Aware specialist Joanne Siderius offers electric fence loaners to Nelson residents so they can familiarize themselves with this system. Since electric fencing has demonstrated to be so effective and affordable, all the communities in the Kootenays should consider it as a realistic option to stop tempting the bears with our backyard succulents.

For more information and contacts visit www.bearaware.bc.ca where you will find a list of electric fence suppliers and easy-to-follow instructions on how to set up a functional electric fence.

Courtenay Ferguson and Sarah Fassina are second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College.

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