Kodiak teacher hopes electric fence will keep bears out

Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2003

KODIAK (AP) Kodiak teacher Steve Steffensen is packing something new in with supplies destined for the family's setnet site in Egegik. A solar-powered electric fence.

The fence is the same as ones used by farmers to corral livestock. But Steffensen bought his fence to keep the wildlife out, particularly brown bears that repeatedly have broken into the family cabin, destroying belongings and making a mess.

During the winter, while the family is away from their Alaska Peninsula cabin, brown bears have climbed in through windows of their plywood cabin and wreaked chaos, Steffensen said. They've eaten food, torn up sleeping bags, clothes and packages of soap, and clawed equipment. They've urinated and defecated in corners before ''blasting their way out through the walls like bulldozers,'' he said.

''They're insatiable,'' said Steffensen, who estimates damages at an extra $1,300.

''They broke every window in the cabin,'' said Steffensen's wife, Carol. ''I think they're having fun in there.''

Bears have busted their way into an estimated 22 set-netters cabins along seven miles of beach in Egegik Bay, according to year-round watchmen employed by the canneries. The problem has become so bad even the canneries aren't safe. Bears broke into the ISA cannery and trashed the store.

''I heard the cook camp just got mauled,'' Steve said.

The problem is especially frustrating for setnetters who don't live year-round in Egegik. Kodiak setnetters Stosh Anderson, Cecil Ranney and Judy Phillips have all had cabins broken into by bears.

''It makes packing difficult,'' Carol Steffensen said. ''You say to yourself, 'do I have any pots and pans left?'''

''It really bums you out when someone sends you a picture of your cabin and you look at it and see your sleeping bags and clothes lying on the tundra,'' Steffensen said.

Then there is the added cost and trouble of shipping new windows and plywood to Egegik.

Steffensen said the first year was the worst. He said the bears ate about $600 worth of groceries. He suspects the bears have come to associate cabins with food.

Steffensen, who grew up on a farm with miles and miles of electric fence to keep pigs and cattle inside, plans to coil wire around his house, held inches off the walls by insulators.

Any bears attempting to crawl through the cabin's windows will immediately be zapped with 40-plus volts of electrical energy.

Past efforts at warding off the bears by Egegik setnetters have met with less than satisfactory results. One set-netter, a carpenter, planed down all of his window frames so bears couldn't gain purchase. Instead, the bears rammed their way inside through his 1/2 inch plywood walls.

Another neighbor surrounded his cabin with boards studded with nails. The bears walked over them.

''Short of a 20-foot steel van, the term bear-proof cabin, might be an oxymoron,'' Steffensen said.

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