Those that keep honey bees dread coming up to a hive on a routine inspection and, instead of a busy hive, find broken hive parts scattered around like kindling wood. The nighttime marauders are hungry black bears fresh out of their dens and, after a long winter without eating and surviving only off their stored body fat, they are ravenous and ready to devour anything edible. In the wild, they rip up anthills and dine on ants. They eat grass and tree buds if they are within reach. They feast on young deer fawns and small animals if they can catch them and search along lakeshores and rivers for dead fish. Their keen sense of smell can pick up tempting odors a mile away. To them, human garbage or food left unattended is just more for the belly.
They are creatures of habit and follow a long more or less circular route that may cover up to 10 square miles. They run afoul with humans when they find something inviting (like a honeybee hive) or a garbage can or domestic crops, and bring destruction down upon them. Already this spring, three different beekeeping friends have lost hives to bears. Usually, there is nothing left to salvage, and it represents over a $200 loss per hive in just bees and equipment, and not counting the loss of honey production and pollination.
As bear hunters know, bears will keep coming back to a place where they learn there is food. That is why hunters set up “bait stations” in remote wooded areas and stock them with food that attracts bears. Once a bear discovers a reliable food source, it will keep coming back on a regular schedule. So if a bear discovers your bird feeder, and if there is anything left of it after its visit, you might want to take it down and put it in a secure location. Bears can detect the scent of sunflower seeds long after the feeder is empty.
A simple wire mesh like chicken wire will protect hives from skunks. But there is very little that can protect a hive from a large hungry bear. A neighbor built a wire cage made of cattle panel fencing around his hive. He used lumber as big as 2x8x8 to reinforce the wire. He covered the top with the same sort of wire. He sank six-inch posts eight-feet-long in the ground two-feet to hold it in place. A bear ripped the boards to shreds, bent and broke the heavy wire to make a hole, and got in and destroyed the hive, eating the bee larva.
A friend in a rural area had birdseed stored in his locked garage. A bear ripped a sheet of metal siding off the side of the building and got in. Another neighbor stored birdseed in the entryway to this home. A bear broke down the outside door to get to the birdseed while he was inside watching TV.
Four years ago, a bear scaled a six-foot fence around one of my hives and dragged pieces of the hive 50 yards away. I have sturdy cages made of heavy woven wire around my hives now, but they would not withstand an assault by a determined large bear. And putting them close to human habitation is not a sure cure. Several years ago, the bee supply company near Hackensack set up colonies within a few yards of their showroom and on the edge of town with private homes all around. Their hives were destroyed in one night by bears.
Then, there is the recent incident near International Falls where a women hiker was attacked by a female black bear. In that case, the bear had cubs. In Canada, more people are killed by black bears than any other type of bear.
All this should reinforce the fact that black bears are dangerous wild animals. Do not deliberately leave food for bears because you want to get a good picture or you want to see a bear up close. (A friend did that with disastrous consequences.) Females with cubs are especially dangerous. Bears will literally go through walls for food if they smell it and are hungry enough. Unless they have had a painful encounter with a human, human scent provides little deterrent. And once they learn where food is, they are apt to keep returning. So campers, do not leave food or food scraps where it will attract bears. Take bird feeders down even if you live in town, and store them in a secure place. Keep bird seed inside in metal containers with lids. Don’t go anywhere near a bear with cubs, and though I may have said that already, it “bears” repeating.
P.S. Bears do not like dogs, so a noisy watchdog is a good investment if you live in a rural area.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.