Electric fence new weapon against hungry bears

Posted: Sunday, July 09, 2000

DILLINGHAM -- Every summer for the last seven or eight years, brown bears have been irresistibly drawn to Hjalmar Olson's yard by the rich scents of drying salmon. They've ripped through the chicken wire surrounding the fish rack and torn through the plywood smokehouse to plunder the salmon.

Olson says playing a radio in the fish rack all night to keep the browsing bears away has helped some, but this year he's going more high-tech.

He has teamed up with Jim Woolington, area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to install a solar-powered electric fence around his smokehouse and fish rack.

Woolington approached Olson to put up a fence as a demonstration project after hearing Olson complain to the Dillingham City Council about bears raiding his fish catch every year.

The fisherman agreed after a bear appeared one evening after Olson's wife Anuska put in 18 hours work to cut about 90 salmon into strips and hang them on the rack. The bear missed out on a feast that day, and Olson wanted to keep it that way.

``My wife was just done hanging them and here comes a bear,'' Olson said. ``She was so mad when the bear came around after all that work.''

Late last month Woolington worked for more than three hours to erect the fence.

``An electric fence is a proven method of keeping bears out,'' he said. ``All a bear is interested in is eating and fish racks are a way of life here. This a real good thing to try and see how it works.''

An electric fence installed last summer around a trash bin at Fish and Game's office in King Salmon has been 100 percent effective, according to area biologist Richard Sellers.

``We used to have chronic problems almost every summer with regular visitors who would tip the Dumpster and make a mess,'' he said. ``We've seen bear tracks around the fence, but we've had no trouble.''

Woolington said a fence and electric charger costs less than $500.

``The idea is to get everyone doing this,'' he said.

The fence protecting Olson's fish is about 3 feet high and has four strands of wire. It will stay up until early August, and if it works, Olson said he's interested in doing it again next year.

``We'll see if other people are interested, and maybe we could buy in bulk and get a reduced price,'' he said.

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