Gillian Sanders just wants to offer farmers in the Pass Creek and Passmore areas a good night’s rest.
“When you have a properly installed and maintained electric fence for bears, the main benefit I see is you can sleep at night,” she says. “If there are bears active in your area, you know your livestock or chicken coop or your assets are protected.”
That’s why Sanders, who started a program called Grizzly Bear Co-existence Solutions, will be leading a free workshop on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Pass Creek Community Hall. A second workshop will be held at Vallican Whole in Passmore the next day (see below for details).
A recent incident where three female grizzlies— a mother and her cubs— had to be put down after wreaking havoc on farms in the Pass Creek and Passmore areas has put the issue of electric fencing for bears into the spotlight again. A local conservation officer said he was frustrated by how few farms in the area had proper electric fencing
Sanders says she feels for the farmers in this situation.
“I sympathize and have compassion for people who have been through this,” she says. “I realize how stressful it can be and every time a dog barks you think there are bears outside and how incredibly stressful it is,” she says. “And there’s an emotional loss component, as well, to having one’s animals killed, as well as the financial cost.”
But Sanders is also offering a solution.
Her program offers advice and training for farmers to secure their chicken coops — or beehives or fruit trees or livestock pens — against bears. Supported by the Columbia Basin Trust, Valhalla Wilderness Society, and other organiztions, the program will cover up to half the cost of installing electric fencing to a maximum of $500. That doesn’t include the cost of fence posts and general farm fencing, just the electrical component.
Since 2013, she’s helped 240 farms protect their property from bears.
“I understand there is an expense involved,” she says. “But the program I’ve developed enables a 50 per cent cost share for electric fencing to assist farmers in co-existing with bears.
“So we’re benefitting farmers and ourselves to grow local food, which I think is really important, and I support wholly, and also to keep bears out of trouble at the same time.”
Sanders speaks from experience. She first got into electric fencing as a homesteader living just a few kilometres from the Kaslo town dump. Her property— and her neighbour’s— were constantly visited by bears.
“Every night [the dogs would bark] and I would wonder if there was a grizzly bear,” she recalls. “I’d be jumping out of bed and shooting off a couple of warning shots to scare the bears off, and I wasn’t sleeping.
“After I installed the electric fencing and I knew the tool worked and I was confident the installation was working, it didn’t matter if the dog barked. I’d just roll over and go back to sleep.”
Sanders stresses this is a cooperative venture. The program is cost-shared because she said a wholly-subsidized program just isn’t as effective.
She underscores that she doesn’t come to the workshops to lecture people.
“I’m not really in favour of trying to tell people what to do,” she says. “It is offering people help if they want it.”
It’s not a problem that’s going to go away. If people want to grow food in bear country, and not suffer losses, they have to take measures to protect their investments. It’s both good for humans, and for bears, she says.
“I dont’ expect every person with a chicken coop will end up with electric fencing, but what I have noticed is in communities where we have really embraced this tool, is eventually the people who don’t have fencing that are the only ones getting hit by the bears.
The workshop runs from 2-5 p.m. at the Pass Creek Community Hall, and will cover both the fencing program and general grizzly bear safety. A second workshop for the Passmore area will be held at Vallican Whole on Sunday, Nov. 18 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
If you’d like to learn more about the grizzly fencing program for your farm, you can contact Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.