Much more than an ‘Electric Fencing Workshop’ on Cortes Island

Bob Hansen’s Electric Fencing Workshop was delightful. The ‘talk’ he gave at Linnaea Farm, on February 3, was the first of FOCI’s new ‘Create, Connect and Conserve’ event series. It was permeated by stories of animal behaviour as well as visual aids.

“I’ve been involved in 50 plus electric fencing projects in our region over the last six years. Wherever electric fences have gone in, the conflicts were resolved,” Hansen explained.  

Adapted from Cortes Community Wolf Project image

His environmental career started out in Jasper National Park 40 years ago. He is a specialist, when it comes to human wildlife encounters. He has worked for Environment Canada, Adventure Canada, and has just completed his sixth year as the WildSafeBC Community Coordinator for the Pacific Rim. While that is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Bob Hansen has a long standing relationship with Cortes. 

“It is a real pleasure for me to be back on Cortes after so many years. 2009 was the first time Sabina Leader-Mense got ahold of me and said, ‘you have to come over here.’” (Laughter) 

“I really appreciate having had that connection. It’s so cool, all the work that Cortes has done over the years to co-exist and it’s clear that the commitment’s there. I use Cortes all the time as an example in the education that I do. Check out Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI) and their primers. Check out what’s happened here.”

“WildSafeBC used to be called BearAware, but in 2014 it was abundantly clear that there was a lot more wildlife that people were living with than bears. So they reimagined the whole program to include all wildlife. There’s around 30 community coordinators working in over 100 communities.  It really is fascinating how various communities have different sets of challenges in terms of coexistence, and the organization is really remarkable in the services it provides across the province. For the most part, all of those services and resources are free.” 

“The real true solution for conflict is  preventing the conflict from happening by managing the attractants. Being aware of how attractive things like bird feeders are.  That little block of suet has about 6,000 calories. For a bear to get an equivalent amount of calories from salal berries, it would have to eat 15 kilograms of salal berries. Just before hibernation, they’re trying to eat 20,000 calories a day.  That’s why you need to take down your bird feeders during bear season.” 

Hansen heard about the Squirrel Cove Bear that raided houses beside Basil Creek in late 2020.

“When the bear did swim over, it really had a great time eating all the delectable fruit that was everywhere.  That’s a really powerful draw. Some people have the point of view that it’s not an unnatural food, but once they’ve consumed that fruit,  the next thing that attracts their attention may be the chickens, or the compost, and then things tend to escalate. Garbage is the number one source of conflict.  Other attractants, and this is the same for bears and wolves, are pet food left outside, chicken feed left outside.” 

“They’re going to key in on the best bang for the buck. Things like barbecues. Grease doesn’t have as many calories per volume as suet, but it’s pretty close. Compost that’s really working well – it’s a good hot compost, lots of browns and greens layered and doesn’t have any meat or fish – that sort of thing  is minimally attractive. I’ve seen it time and time again, where a bear will repeatedly walk past the compost that’s working properly.  But, if it’s one where everything is just piled in and piled in and piled in, it’s more like  providing a smorgasbord for the bear. They just flip the lid and go, ‘all right, this is good.’”

The remainder of Hansen’s talk was about electric fencing.  

“Bears do tend to test things with their nose, that’s how they discover their world. That’s sort of like their superpower. Even comparing them to a purpose bred search dog,  the amount of sensory tissue in a bear for scent is an order of magnitude greater  than that. They live in a world of scent, led by their nose.”

Hansen showed the audience a film clip in which a black bear cub received a jolt of electricity when it sniffed the wire in a hot electric fence. 

One of the Cortes residents observed, “It’s scary to be shocked if you don’t know what it is.” 

Several others spoke up in agreement. 

“You wouldn’t go near it again,” the first resident continued.  

Bob Hansen: “There’s the cub. Now he’s really staring at that fence. What happened?”

“Coming around here anymore?” the Cortesian asked. 

Bob Hansen: “No, Mom’s going, time to leave.” 

Hansen explained that one or two encounters like that is enough to deter any bear. He displayed the image of a frustrated polar bear who, unable to get inside a fence, was running laps around it.

Electric fences have resolved the situation in all 50 human/wildlife encounters Hansen has been involved with, but the fence has to be installed properly.

Bears are intelligent creatures. For example the year after a bear learned how to open a vehicle:

“45 vehicles were opened in multiple communities by multiple bears, which I cannot explain.” 

“Something you have to consider when you’re designing fences, is you have to think like a bear.” 

If they can’t get through a fence, bears will seek ways to get around or over it. When Hansen was in the Arctic, a sow used a large wooden box to get past an electric fence. 

Bob Hansen: “This is a wooden box that goes behind a skidoo or a  dog team. She just flipped it over and  kept rolling it over until she was beside the fence. Then she got on top of it, leapt over and in the process hooked some of the wires and brought the whole fence down. So we put the box inside the fence and that was the end of that problem.” 

Bears have also gained access to enclosures by climbing trees or adjoining buildings, and dropping down inside. One of his clients installed an electric fence themselves, but did not notice the stump beside it. 

Bob Hansen: “The bear got up on the stump and jumped in. Once he was in there, he couldn’t get out, so he tore the whole thing apart.” 

The homeowner tried installing the fence again, and the bear ripped that apart. Hansen showed pictures of the homeowner’s fence and one that WildSafeBC was finally brought in to install.

“We did the installation on the right, and that was the end of the problem.”

While most of his lecture was about bears, Hansen also talked about other creatures.  

Bob Hansen: “Cougars with their ability to leap very high and very far are the most challenging to protect against.  If you’re constructing to keep out cougars, it needs to be a very high fence. So, eight, ten feet high, and then have multiple wires that go up to quite a height. Have an even higher line around the whole thing that has flagging hanging off it to provide another additional visual deterrent.  There’s no guarantee with cougars, but that could be effective in most situations.” 

CC: What about wolves? 

Bob Hansen: “For wolves it can be quite effective increasing the number of wires and reducing the space between each wire.   If you’re able to construct a fence with solid wooden posts, install metal mesh wiring on the inside of the wooden post and then on the outside put your electric fencing wires. Have them spaced quite tightly and that double layer of fencing will work well in deterring wolves.”

“An enclosure with hardware cloth would work for raccoons likely, but not for bears’. (They can tear that apart.) You would have to use a real fine mesh because the raccoons will climb the mesh, but you can get real fine mesh and that’s hard for them to climb.”

“For raccoons, we advise having an inner  fence of wire fencing and then put your electric fencing wires on the outside of that. They’ll try to go under, and they’ll get shocked.   Then they may try to go between the wires, but you’ve got that metal inner fencing so they’re going to get shocked. Two or three experiences like that and they won’t bother anymore.”

“The workshop concluded with everyone going outside to examine an electric fence to discuss the ‘how-tos’ of installing it.” 

Bob Hansen: “You want a deep cycle RV battery, something that has a lot of cranking power and it’ll run for 8 to 10 weeks off that battery. Then you trickle charge it overnight for one night, and then you’re good for another 8 to 10 weeks.”  

“There’s the solar option.  Those fences in Igloolik we’re all run off of solar units.  We didn’t know if it would work, but it worked into early December and quite a long while after the sun stopped coming  up over the horizon. I couldn’t believe  how the  solar panel technology just keeps improving.”

“There’s also the least expensive energizers  that you plug into an 110 power source.”

Hansen also talked about pricing, but this varies according to need. 

Local biologist Sabina Leader-Mense pointed out, “FOCI has a deal with Black Creek Farm and Feed.” 

WildSafeBC conducted 33 training sessions and engaged over 1,300 people in 2023. 

Sabina Leader-Mense would like to see them come into our area.  

“I’ve been in contact with the Strathcona Regional District.  Mark Vonesch and Robin MaWhinney, next door on Quadra, are very excited about the WildSafe program and about addressing wildlife coexistence. They’re approaching their fellow rural directors. We have the whole region of Kyuquot for example, with big wildlife issues as well. We’re hoping to get some buy-in from the Regional District, which could ultimately be hiring a WildSafeBC community coordinator that would look after all of the programming and information in the wild ranger programs throughout the Regional District.” 

In addition to the electric fence workshop, Bob Hansen also gave a bear spray demonstration, which De Clarke is about to publish, and there was enough discussion about wolves to merit a separate program. 

Links of Interest:

Top image credit: Examining the electric fence – Soma Feldmar photo

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