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Aspen bears are in for a shock

Carolyn Sackariasoncsack@aspentimes.comAspen, CO Colorado
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen TimesMain Street Bakery owner Bill Dinsmoor explains how his electric mat works in deterring bears from breaking into his freezer.
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ASPEN, Colorado – Bears in search of food are in for a shock if they try to bottom feed from Main Street Bakery & Cafe in Aspen.Bill Dinsmoor, owner of the restaurant, has found a solution to protect his vulnerable food supply locked in an outdoor freezer: electricity.The freezer was broken into four or five times by bears, but since Dinsmoor installed a high-voltage, low-amp electrified mat about a month ago, he said he has had no problems with bruins.”It seems to have worked brilliantly to keep my bear at bay,” he said. “The two bears tormenting me all summer are totally gone.”Dinsmoor said his neighbor recently watched a bear try to enter the freezer but was deterred because it kept getting shocked from stepping on the horizontal mat in front of it.”It sat there for 15 minutes looking at the freezer but eventually it left,” Dinsmoor said of his neighbor’s observation.The Colorado Division of Wildlife had temporarily given Dinsmoor the contraption as an experiment. When the DOW came to collect it so it could be used at a private home, Dinsmoor bought his own.The way it works is that when a bear’s paws hit both sides of the mat it receives a slight shock. Employees accessing the freezer don’t get shocked because they are wearing shoes.”If I was barefoot or peed on it, I’d get shocked,” Dinsmoor said. “It’s not dangerous equipment.”Dinsmoor said the product, called “The Wrangler,” manufactured by Gallagher, cost him $80 at the Roaring Fork Valley Co-op. It’s 600 volts but has a low amp so it doesn’t harm the animal.Electric fencing functions as an incomplete, or open, circuit, with repeating pulses of electricity generated by the energizer sent through the charged wires. When an animal touches a charged wire, it grounds the fence, creating a closed circuit. An electrical pulse travels through the animal and back to the energizer, delivering a shock.As a member of the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, Dinsmoor has brought up the notion of using electric fencing or mats around dumpsters in town. He said a few could be rigged up and baited with peanut butter in an effort to attract a bear.If an electrified dumpster works in deterring bruins from prying it open or dumping it over, it could be the solution Aspen has been looking for.”I just wonder if the real experts would be able to retrain these bears,” Dinsmoor said. “How much time and money have we wasted?”I’ve spent thousands of dollars in agony.”Electric fencing has been typically used to keep animals in but it is becoming more popular as a bear deterrent. It’s used to protect landfills and trash cans in other communities, as well as by backcountry campers.DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said electric fencing is one way to deter bears but it’s not the end-all solution.”There are challenges, and we have to be cautious that it’s not used in areas that are really public,” he said. “But certainly we have had success in things that can’t be removed, such as beehives.”Hampton added that the DOW has a few electric mats that it lends out, and it will likely get more as a result of their effectiveness. The DOW will show people how to assemble the product and how to make it solar-powered.”We may end up with more as we find applications that work,” he said.The Snowmass Village Police Department has two chargers that are used by officers for either an electrified mat or fence, according to animal services officer Laurie Smith.”We’ve been using it since 2005,” Smith said. “We got the idea from a bear biologist in Montana.”She said the first time the electric mat was used it was highly successful. It was placed outside of a garage where a bear had entered through an unlocked door. The owners had a freezer full of meat that was intended to be consumed over the winter.”[The bear] drug half a cow out so it had gotten a huge food reward there,” Smith said.The mat was placed outside of the garage, and when the bear returned, the owners happened to be home and witnessed it getting shocked.”They never saw it again,” Smith said.Dinsmoor said he thinks providing and installing the product around homes and businesses in the Aspen area has potential.”It could be a good business opportunity for someone,” he said.Smith cautioned that the electric fencing can’t be placed everywhere.”You would want to be careful in places where there are kids and small animals,” she said.csack@aspentimes.com


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