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Wisconsin students build a better bear trap

Wildlife managers for east-central Wisconsin picked up a new bear trap this morning for rapid response situations, beautifully designed and built by natural resources students at Pulaski High School.

Students Chasten Fatla, a junior, and Brock Bogacz, a sophomore, took on the project after James Robaidek, a wildlife technician with the Department of Natural Resources, approached engineering teacher Jerad Marsh and asked if he knew of students who might be interested in a big project with a tight budget and a timeline. He did.

Robaidek said he provided some basic ideas for starters, but Fatla and Bogacz designed and built the trap themselves

“They did all the research themselves,” Robaidek said. “This is a phenomenal design.”

The culvert-style trap is made from aluminum tubing mounted on a trailer frame. Bait can be placed inside, luring the bear in, where it will step on a pressure plate, triggering a spring-activated door that quickly shuts behind it. The design is safe and practical for wildlife managers, and the bear.

Robaidek assured onlookers this morning that bears will indeed walk up the trailer ramp and enter the huge metal tube.

“The power of food is incredible when it comes to bears,” Robaidek said. “It’s all about their tummies.”

Wisconsin’s bear population is expanding, which means residents in east-central Wisconsin can expect to see more black bears in areas outside of traditional bear range. Human-bear conflicts have increased.

The DNR and the United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services receive over 1,100 complaints annually about black bears, resulting in the trapping and relocation of more than 500 animals each year. Anyone who encounters a nuisance bear in Wisconsin can call 1-800-228-1366 for assistance.

Most are not problem bears, Robaidek said, just wanderers who find themselves in trouble. DNR and Wildlife Services staff can generally trap these bears without the need for immobilizing chemicals and then relocate them to remote public lands.

“We’re giving them a second chance to get it right,” Robaidek said.

The department’s wildlife management staff minimizes human-bear conflicts by explaining ways to coexist with black bears, controlling bear populations through hunter harvest and, when necessary, providing direct assistance to landowners through the local wildlife biologist and a service agreement with USDA-Wildlife Services.

While the DNR and Wildlife Services have several traps spread across east-central Wisconsin, they are often in use, which delays relocation. Wildlife staff recognized a need for an additional, more centrally located bear trap and transport trailer. A new bear trap can be expensive, however, costing upwards of $6,000, if you can find a shop willing to take on the work.

Pulaski Area High School teachers Kaleb Santy and Jared Marsh stepped up to the plate and said they could help. Students Fatla and Bogacz decided to construct the bear trap nearly from scratch. They produced a superior trap for about $3,000. They saved the DNR money and took an active role in the management of black bears in Wisconsin.

It took about seven months, and they delivered it in time for the busy month of June when bears are on the move.

“We had a good time building it,” said Fatla, a hunter and angler, “and it was definitely cool to build this thing for the DNR.”

Bogacz said they repeatedly tested the trap. If it was something they were building for themselves, they might cut a corner here and there. But not for this project.

“Here we made sure we did everything right,” he said.