The Bears and the Bees

The most recent meeting at the Oxford Hills Honey Bee Club hosted Scott Lindsay, a wildlife biologist from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to go over information about black bears. Apparently the only state in the lower 48 with a higher population of black bears is Oregon.

At the moment, it is probable that male bears, boars, are are out and about on warm days, 40 degrees and up, but they’re still going back to sleep in between. The female bears, sows, likely won’t be up and around until early to mid-April. That’s also when you’re likely to see cubs in softwood and mixed wood trees. If you do, walk away calmly, since their mother is probably watching nearby.

Interestingly, it takes about a week for their digestion to ramp up after their four to five month hibernation, so their first forays out aren’t gorging. The other interesting piece of information is that as much of a food jackpot as a beehive is, it’s not actually their first choice. If they can find other, natural sources of food, that’s what they prefer. The hard part in the beginning of spring is the limited food supplies outside of the hives ramping up their brood for summer nectar flows.

When I was in Colorado, the bee school emphasized both electricity and physical sturdiness of the structure. Scott prefers making the area around the hive, or anywhere else you don’t want to have a bear, an unpleasant place for the bear to be. This includes electric fencing with a charger giving no less than .5 joules (the horsepower of electricity), and at least a 5,000 volt shock. Something that the bear will remember. However, you can also do things to make the general area unpleasant. There are pyrotechnic shells, cracker shells, that you can get for your 12-gauge. Speak with the ATF and/or USDA for permission. Air horns and firecrackers can also be used to make loud noises. There’s this thing called a propane cannon, but he recommended against using it if you’re in a populated area since it upsets the humans, too. If being annoyingly loud isn’t enough to discourage the bear, you can add some pain stimulus. Aside from the electric fence, you can also get beanbag rounds for your shotgun. If you get rubber bullets, make sure you aim for large muscle masses. The idea is to make the animal uncomfortable, not actually injure it.

If you have a younger bear in the area, they’re easier to train. Because bears are territorial, having a local bear trained to not eat your hives is the best of all outcomes. It will protect its territory, because that’s what they do, and therefore accidentally protect your hives from any not yet trained bears. Not training your local bear means relying on luck to keep your hives safe. Apparently some hives can go years without being touched but half a mile away is an apiary that gets cleaned out on a regular basis. The hard part is that can change without notice. Once the bear finds the easy food source, they’re really, really hard to discourage. A lot of people would like such a bear removed. That’s the second-to-last choice for the department, and it’s also not very effective. First, they’re placed in already claimed territory, annoying the bears on the Quebec border, then they tend to just walk right back home. It really only works with boar bears in the four to five year age group. The odds are, that’s not your bear.

Legally speaking, if a bear is causing harm or damage to you or your livestock, you are allowed to shoot to kill. For it to be legal, you have to call your local game warden within 18 hours. However, most bears have no interest in attacking us and with a little work on our part, they can be discouraged from attacking livestock, too.

One last point. On the off chance that you run into the very, very rare bear that is genuinely predatory and not just trying to intimidate, fight back. Playing dead will not work. However, convincing them that you’re not an easy meal might make them look elsewhere.

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