Camping in Grizzly Country: Bear Fences

If you’ve camped in bear country, then you’re probably familiar with the hassle of hanging a bear bag. First, there’s the difficulty of finding a sturdy tree, preferably one with long, straight limbs. In some regions, this just isn’t a possibility. Then there’s the throw, which you invariably miss the first six times, causing your companions to flee in all directions as the rock you tied to the bag’s string comes whipping back to earth. An hour later, you finally have your food hoisted off the ground, albeit far less high than the literature recommends. You start to wonder if camping is even worth the effort. What if there were an easier technique? Something fool proof, but lighter than a bear canister?

The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) may have found a solution. Since 2004, NOLS has been using mesh bear fences on their Wyoming-based courses. Modeled after the electric fences that keep horses in pastures, the bear fences are about 3.5 feet high and put out nearly 9000 volts. Once the battery pack is turned on, the fence emits 35-45 shocks per minute. The shock is strong enough to keep bears and other wildlife at bay, but weak enough that it doesn’t do any lasting damage. Tiny LEDs are attached to the top of each post, which makes it easy for humans to spot the fences in the dark. The six posts form a loose pentagon with a footprint the size of a four-man tent. Although the fences can be made large enough to encompass an entire camp, NOLS is currently using them for food storage. While the immediate goal is to keep the food safe, the long-term goal is to keep grizzlies from equating campsites to free meals. The program’s success could revolutionize the way people travel and camp in grizzly country.

The bear fence program at NOLS is being run in cooperation with a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Fish & Game. Check out the video NOLS posted of the bear fence in action.