Photographer Paul Colangelo's camp, with an electric fence protecting his kitchen and supply tents. Todagin Mountain, norther British Columbia. ©Paul Colangelo

Photographer Paul Colangelo’s camp, with a solar-powered electric fence protecting his kitchen and gear tents. Todagin Mountain, northern British Columbia. ©Paul Colangelo

Working on long-term projects in remote locations can pose logistical challenges for photographers, including lack of phone and internet service, and power for recharging batteries for cameras, laptops, and other gear. Vancouver-based wildlife photographer (and PDN’s 30) Paul Colangelo explains how he copes with those issues in our story, “Managing Photo Tech on Location, Off the Grid.”

But he faces another kind of challenge altogether during his long trips into remote, open country of northern British Columbia: hungry grizzly bears. Colangelo isn’t too worried the bears will attack him. But he does worry about bears raiding his three-month supply of food while he’s out of camp, especially during the day “when I’m not there to scare them away.”

So around his gear and kitchen tents, he sets up an electric fence that’s 42 inches high, and about 100 feet long. Made by Premier1, the fence cost him about $500. It is powered by a pair of 12-volt batteries in a weather-proof box that is equipped with a solar panel charger.

“It’s made primarily for people who keep livestock, to keep sheep in and predators out,” he says. “It’s not lightweight by any means.”

Total weight for the fence and power supply is about 50 pounds. Colangelo relies on helicopters to transport his gear in and out of the bush, so the weight isn’t critical for him. For those packing gear in and out on their backs, he says, there’s the UDAP Bear Shock ultra light fence (3.7 lbs) for about $270. “They’re much smaller, so they’re not going to do as much to stop a bear, but it’s still something,” he says. (UDAP also sells a larger 9-lb “food storage” fence for about $380.)

Colangelo says that in addition to protecting his food supply, “you sleep with a little extra peace of mind with that fence between you and them.”

The fence can deliver a jolt. It comes with test leaders, so you don’t have to touch it to be sure it is working, but Colangelo says he’s touched it accidentally. “It’s enough to wake you up in the morning,” he says. “I once by accident stuck my finger in a light socket. [The fence] seems stronger than that. It’s a pretty sharp jolt.”

But he’s never seen a bear test it. In fact, he says, the bears are so unaccustomed to humans, they don’t recognize human food for what it is. So they don’t go after it. “I once saw a grizzly bear walk by a hunter’s tent, without even sniffing the food bag. The bears are looking for marmots and sheep,” he says.

For the same reason, Colangelo doesn’t worry about bears going after him. He’s never met anyone in the back country who has had a threatening encounter, and says that in all of his encounters with bears, “they just go about their business and wander away.

“It’s like driving: an accident is not likely to happen, but it can. So you take precautions,” he says. “It’s those childhood fears, and your imagination–that’s what gets to people. The more time you spend [in bear country], the less afraid you are.”

Colangelo recounts one memorable encounter he had with a bear. He had come back to camp in the middle of the day. He was in and out of his tent in less than five minutes, and when he came out, a bear was at the open entrance to his electric fence, less than 20 feet away, trying to dig up a marmot. “He knew I was there,” Colangelo says.

Unfortunately, he had put his gear bag down just outside the fence, in order to turn off the electricity and open the gate. “I couldn’t take a single picture,” he says.

Eventually, the bear gave up on the marmot, and wandered off.

Related:
Managing Photo Tech On Location, Off The Grid


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