Electric fencing, © Defenders of Wildlife

A Simple Solution To A Grizzly Problem

A grizzly bear heading for an apple tree. Photo courtesy of Bob Muth.

Imagine a giant plate of warm, cheesy pasta. Now imagine that you haven’t eaten in three days, and in order to get to the pasta you have to cross a busy highway, sneak past barking dogs and climb over a barbed wire fence.  Would you go for it? Maybe not. But if you were a 500-lb. grizzly bear getting ready to hibernate for five months, you wouldn’t think twice.

Backyard chickens and smelly garbage are a bear’s cheesy pasta. While grizzly bears that feed on tempting attractants like these may not be starving, their drive to gain weight is intense and frequently gets them into trouble. Should we blame the hungry bears for eating food that’s left out in the open? No, but the grizzly bear often pays with its life nonetheless.

Three grizzlies have died in less than two weeks in northwest Montana. Two were in the process of killing or attempting to kill chickens. Both were shot and killed by the homeowners.  The remains of a third grizzly were found and the cause of death is still under investigation.  Additionally, during the same time period, two male grizzly bears were captured and relocated.  The younger one had killed chickens and the other had killed turkeys. None of the homeowners had electric fencing installed to protect their poultry.

Electrified chicken coop.

Raising chickens and small livestock might be a good way to local, affordable, and sustainable food.  However, when living in bear country it is critical that chicken owners secure their chickens with electric fence. Electric fencing is relatively inexpensive, easy to use and the design can be flexible, depending on the situation.  A jolt from an electric fence is usually enough to teach a bear to keep their distance and deter it from returning.

For long-term grizzly bear recovery to be successful, we will have to find ways to coexist. That’s why Defenders continues working hard to increase tolerance on the lands where this great bear resides.  This year we implemented an electric fencing incentive program that has proven to be very effective at reducing conflicts between people and bears.

One of our project partners Bob Muth decided to install an electric fence recently after a grizzly bear paid his apple orchard a visit. Muth had this to say:

“There are things that cannot be put into words. And the aura surrounding a wild grizzly bear is at the top of the list. Grizzlies are mythical, mystical, and magnificent creatures. We are blessed to live in a place large enough and wise enough to be part of this breathtaking animal’s recovery from the road to extermination…thanks to farsighted conservationists and the Endangered Species Act. On a personal note, Laurie and I feel that a few destroyed fruit trees are a small price to pay to be able to witness the great bear’s return. However, with the help of Tim Manley (FWP) and Defenders of Wildlife, we have installed electric fencing around our farmstead and barnyard hoping to discourage the bears from becoming dependent of a food source that can only end badly for the bears.”

These incidents are a good reminder that a little fencing can go a long way. To make sure more grizzly bears aren’t killed unnecessarily, we must all do our part to secure food attractants, starting with what’s in our
own backyard.

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