FWP bear expert Kim Annis helps locals stay bear safe

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LOCAL BEAR expert for Western Montana, Kim Annis standing next to her truck which is always loaded with fencing gear and supplies to keep the bears at bay. (John Dowd/Clark Fork Valley Press)

Grizzly and black bears, both weighing several hundreds pounds, have little trouble getting what they want in terms of food, so it is no surprise that when a bear decides it wants something it will get it.

Since bears are driven mostly by their stomachs, according to local bear expert, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Kim Annis, that something is usually food. Bears have a sense of smell seven times greater than that of a blood hound, and more than 2,100 times that of a human, so they can find food at great distances even after it has been hidden very well.

Most encounters between bears and humans occur when food is concerned, and most often in regard to garbage, however there are many other attractants that will bring them in.

Many locals of Sanders county, and much of Montana, have chicken coups, fruit trees or beehives and they are all very attractive to bears.

Though these things are likely to attract bears there is no reason for locals to give up them up.

According to Annis, there is a way to keep bears away from the communities and from local gardens, coups, and hives.

She recommends people stay bear aware and to pick up fruits immediately when ripe and to guard chicken houses and livestock with electric fencing.

Most people, when they think of electric fencing, only think to use it to keep things in, however, according to Annis, there are virtually unlimited possibilities to use electricity to defend one’s livelihood from bears.

Not only can it be used as traditional fencing, it can also be wired into bird houses, matting, doors and even game animal carcasses after a hunt.

As Annis puts it, “electricity is only limited by our imaginations.”

Part of her job is to travel around her jurisdiction, which includes Sanders County, and to investigate bear reports, whether it be attacks, disruptions, garbage invasions or any other situation where a bear makes its way into a community.

Annis investigates, advising, educating the victims and assisting where she can in preventing future attacks. She explains that it is far easier to prevent an attack before it happens than to deal with it after the fact.

One big part of Annis’s solution to bear attack prevention is for locals to employ electric fencing while bears are awake and moving around. This is typically between April 1 and Thanksgiving, about the time when bears return to hibernation.

Annis carries temporary electric fencing kits to prevent bears from returning to a site until the victims can put in their own system, which can actually be very affordable, and she will assist anyone in personalizing a solution to any person’s specific situation.

Annis has a great deal of knowledge and experience on the subject. She can also temporarily provide bear resistant garbage cans if a person should need one until such a person can obtain their own, and usually only for one “bear year.”

There are also several grants locals can take advantage of to assist them in securing electric fencing for whatever they may need it for.

First there is the “Defenders of Wildlife Incentive Program” which will pay 50% of the cost of putting in a system up to $500. Qualification is usually very easy and Sanders County is one of the many places across the west that takes part in the initiative, whose goal is to protect both humans and bears.

Another monetary assistance program is the “Livestock Loss Board,” which can also provide up to 50% of the cost to putting in a fence, and with no upper limit. This is run by the Department of Agriculture.

When putting in a fence Annis said that if electricity is added to an already existing fence, a minimum of three lines is needed to protect from bears.

This is to prevent under, over, and through encroachment. If a new fence is to be installed, she suggests five lines, alternating ground and hot. She also suggests that a fence be wired with at least half of a joule to one joule, or a minimum of 7,000 volts of electricity.

It is important to remember that bears have thick skin and fur and take much more electricity to affect than humans. The amount of motivation a bear has to reach a food source will influence how hard a bear will try to get at it.

Though all food sources should be defended, richer food sources should be kept in mind because bears can suffer through a little pain if they feel it is worth it, that is why the electricity should be so high.

“The idea is that you want the pain to significantly outweigh the benefits of the food source, in a bears mind,” said Annis.

For more information or assistance, contact Annis at 406-291-1320.

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