If more Clearwater householders used electric fencing to deter bears, it would significantly reduce the number of incidents in the community, according to Frank Ritcey.
“Any bear that touches an electric fence, chances are they’re leaving town,” he said. “Bears do not like electricity.”
A former resident of Upper Clearwater and Clearwater, Ritcey now lives in Kamloops, where he is provincial coordinator for WildSafeBC.
He was in Clearwater on Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Wells Gray Infocenter to deliver a workshop on how to use electric fencing to deter bears.
More than a dozen local residents took part in the workshop, plus a number of tourists stopped to listen in.
This year a poor berry crop has meant an unusually high number of bears in Clearwater, he said.
So far, nine bears have been destroyed in the community, six by conservation officers and three by local residents.
The number one cause of problem interactions with bears locally is garbage.
That means those interactions are almost entirely preventable. People should avoid putting out garbage that contains food until just before it is to be picked up, Ritcey said.
Another problem source is fruit. Apples and similar fruit are high in energy and so form an irresistible attractant, he said.
The best solutions are to pick the fruit before it ripens or knock the blossoms off the trees in the spring so fruit doesn’t form.
Some communities have gleaning programs to collect fruit.
Bird feeders are another culprit. They should be put in locations where bears cannot easily get at them and only a small amount of feed should be put out at one time.
The area around bird feeders should be cleaned regularly. Feeders attract many other kinds of wildlife besides birds.
The increasing interest in raising chickens is also increasing problem interactions with bears.
“Usually bears come for the feed and stay for the chickens,” Ritcey said. “Chickens are the new gateway drug. They’ll eat the chickens and then look for what else is in town.”
Modifying human behaviour (for example, by putting the garbage out in the morning before pickup) is the best way to modify bear behaviour.
If that isn’t possible, then the number one alternative is electric fencing.
“The only thing that really works is electricity,” the WildsafeBC spokesperson said.
“If you have a hobby farm with chickens, an orchard, maybe a pig or two, then fence the whole thing,” he said.
Every fencing situation is different and WildsafeBC offers advice on how to set one up. However, Ritcey did offer a few guidelines.
To deter a bear, the fence must deliver a minimum of 6,000 volts, although it need be only .75 joule of energy.
The energizer should be CSA or UL approved and can cost from $85 to $500.
“You don’t need a super unit like they would use in Texas,” Ritcey advised.
Either smooth steel or aluminum wire (no less than 16 gauge) can be used, or braided poly wire with at least six steel wires in the braid.
There should be a minimum of six strands of wire in the fence, although eight is better.
The bottom strand should be no more than 20 cm from the ground and the top strand should be no less than 1.2 m from the ground. Strand spacing should be no more than 25 cm.
Weather resistant signs warning of the danger of electric shock should be visible at all points where people might contact the fence.
“People ask how safe is an electric fence. I say, how safe is it to have a bear in your neighbourhood?” Ritcey commented.
Deer can easily jump over a fence designed to keep bears out of a garden.
One solution might be to add an extra strand of wire at some distance outside the main fence.
“Deer can jump high or they can jump far, but they can’t jump high and far at the same time,” Ritcey said.
WildsafeBC can supply details on how to configure the outside strand.
Further information on electric fencing and other bear control options is available at www.wildsafebc.com.