Electric fencing, © Jonathan Proctor/Defenders

A Grizzly Game Of Chicken

What do you see when you picture the lands where grizzlies live? Vast, remote mountain vistas, open prairies, lush green valleys and fish laden rivers? While ideal, habitats such as these are becoming few and far between.

This grizzly bear cub was captured and taken to a zoo as a result of conflicts with chickens and other bear attractants.

The reality is, the modern grizzly bear in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must learn to navigate roads, neighborhoods, livestock, railways, and attractants such as fruit trees, chickens, birdseed and garbage scattered across the landscape. This maze of humanity leads to the deaths of many grizzly bears.  That is why Defenders is so committed to developing innovative ways to ensure that grizzlies and people can coexist.

Electric fencing is proving to be one of the most effective tools to deter grizzlies from getting into trouble with people.  It gives grizzles a strong shock which does not harm them but quickly teaches them to stay away from that attractant and move on in search of natural foods. Bottom line: it keeps grizzly bears alive.

Two years ago, Defenders created the electric fence incentive program to combat the onslaught of conflicts surrounding grizzly bears and chickens. The program reimbursed small livestock owners in northwest Montana and northern Idaho $100 towards the cost of an electric fence that would secure their livestock from grizzly bears. From 2010-2011, we helped 18 landowners install electric fences.  Due to increased interest and popularity of this program, we decided to expand the effort.  Beginning in 2012 the electric fence incentive reimburses 50% of the cost of an electric fence around any grizzly bear attractant–chicken coops, garbage, beehives, etc.–up to a maximum reimbursement of $500.00.

Russ Talmo explains how to use electric fences to protect beehives, chicken coops and other grizzly bear attractants.

Defenders has also hired a contractor to provide landowners with technical assistance regarding their electric fences. Russ Talmo formerly worked on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear program, where he gained valuable experience advising landowners how to secure bear attractants using electric fences.

To date, the incentive will have assisted with the completion of 25 electric fences in 2012.  This program provides a solution to the growing issue of grizzly bear conflicts in the urban/wildland interface and is creating open dialogue and unique partnerships between feed stores, electric fencing supply companies, federal, state and tribal agencies, NGOs and landowners. Grizzly bears do not have to die for someone’s chicken.  Coexistence is attainable with tools such as electric fencing but it is our responsibility as stewards of these animals and their habitat to utilize these tools to ensure the survival of the wild grizzly.

Read this recent New York Times article about the growing conflict between grizzly bears and chickens. While it’s great to see so many people interested in raising chickens, it comes with a responsibility to protect our native wildlife as well.

“There are a lot of people, even environmentally sensitive people, who just don’t realize the problem they are causing,” said Jonathan Proctor, who heads the local office of the group. “But if they put up an electric fence, that allows the bears to teach themselves to do the right thing.”

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