Spring marks the emergence of grizzly and black bears from their winter dens. And when they come out, they come out hungry. Fortunately, Defenders’ Electric Fence Incentive Program, which helps keep bears out of trouble by putting electric fencing around the things that draw bears into conflicts with humans, is already in full swing. The electric fencing program is another way that Defenders is helping individuals, landowners and communities coexist with wildlife. Bear conflicts on private lands are dramatically reduced when electric fencing is put around things that attract bears, like chicken coops, bee hives, fruit trees and small livestock. Human-caused mortality is the number one cause of grizzly deaths in the continental United States, but is also one of the most preventable. That is why programs like our fencing incentive are so critical to conservation and recovery efforts.
Last month we installed our first electric fence of the season. Working with staff from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, we built a permanent fence for a landowner in Eureka, Montana who had been experiencing annual conflicts with black and grizzly bears on his hobby farm. This region is just west of Glacier National Park and borders the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, home to the largest population of grizzly bears in the Lower 48. Over the course of two days and variable weather, we managed to install a five-strand, electrified wire fence surrounding a large pig corral and a chicken coop. This particular project, involving a hobby farm in prime grizzly bear habitat, is largely representative of an ever-growing segment of the human population. These are not ranches producing commercial livestock. Hobby farms tend to be private landowners that often have a menagerie of small livestock, livestock feed and other attractants at their residence for personal use.
Based on the level of interest and turnout of help to build this fence, I think it speaks volumes to the significance of this project. Multiple grizzly bears that have learned to find the stored grain used to feed pigs and chickens have been trapped at this location over the years, including one sow and cubs on two separate occasions. Furthermore, several black bears “guilty” of the same offense, were also relocated or killed due to conflicts. This site was a high priority with a long history of human-bear conflicts. Tim Thier, Regional Biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks had this to say about the fencing project: “I really think this is going to work and am very hopeful that we have caught our last bear at this place. If so, I will look back when I retire and consider it one of the more significant accomplishments during my career.” We are proud to be a part of this fencing project and many more to come!
Russ Talmo, Rockies & Plains Field Technician