By Micah Drew

Electric Fence Incentive Program Promotes Human-Bear Coexistence


Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

A black bear helps itself to unsecured trash in downtown Seeley Lake last week.

Got grizzlies? Defenders of Wildlife can help.

The Defenders have an electric fencing incentive program to help landowners protect their yards, garden and animals-without endangering bears.

The Defenders are offering to reimburse landowners for 50 percent of the cost of bear-resistant electric fencing, up to $500. The incentive is both a technical and financial assistance program.

"Humans by and large generate things on the landscape that bears love, like bear snacks basically," said Russ Talmo, manager of Defenders' Electric Fence Incentive Program. "Electric fencing is not rocket science, it's very simple and we have found that it's super effective."

Residents of 27 Montana counties are eligible for funding, including Missoula, Lake and Powell Counties. Common bear attractants that qualify for fencing include chicken coops, garbage and compost, fruit trees and livestock.

The program has completed more than 250 projects since 2010. Talmo said the average reimbursement is around $300. Chicken coops are the most common projects.

"I'd be horrified if something happened to my chickens," said Bigfork resident Peggy Brewer, who installed an electric fence around her coop a few years ago. "Within two weeks I got half the funds back."

"It's one of the simplest easiest solutions," said Larry Feight, a representative for several electric fencing companies. But, "It's not a miracle."

Feight said that picking the right type of fence, and making sure it's done right, is essential. If the fence is too small or flimsy, it won't be effective.

"The number one rule in fencing bears is never annoy the bear," said Feight. "You shock the bear so hard, that it's gone."

Bear recovery is a priority in this part of the country, but one of the leading challenges is human-bear conflicts. In Seeley Lake, a cinnamon black bear was shot in April after getting into garbage and dog food on a residence. Last fall a bear broke into a car near the Tamaracks Resort to eat some ginger snaps, and earlier last year a radio-collared female grizzly was killed after approaching some chicken feed at a house near Placid Lake.


Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks pushes prevention to avoid these types of conflicts.

"Even if you have never had trouble, set up an electric fence," FWP Region 2 Bear Manager Jamie Jonkel told the Pathfinder.

Jonkel said that people are animal trainers-having attractants trains bears to approach property. But just as easily, bears can be trained to do the opposite.

"The bears in essence train themselves to keep away from the attractants," said Jonkel. "That electric fence... becomes the teacher."

FWP publishes a guide every year to help beginners deter bears via electric fencing. The guide goes through different scenarios, fencing types and how they work. The latest version can be downloaded from the FWP website at


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