Bears are a heady topic at many beekeeper meetings. Although their images are used to promote honey, practically any mention of these furry mammals is guaranteed to get strong reactions. This is understandable when one is confronted by the devastation even a single bear can cause in a bee yard. However, mention of eliminating these animals is anathema to those who are interested in conserving this wildlife resource.
The emotional content of the topic is heightened because so little verifiable information is available either on the amount of damage bears cause or the physical number of these animals in any given area. One survey by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission showed a total loss of 64,602 colonies valued at $104,868.1 This figure did not convince the Commission, however, to change its policy of conserving and maximizing the black bear population in Florida.
The bear beekeeper conflict is not unique to Florida.2 Some 39 of 62 states and most Canadian provinces report bear damage. The means to control black bear damage in descending order of effectiveness are electric fences, platforms and hunting. Over 30 years of study by a number of researchers confirms that a properly-constructed and maintained electric fence will prevent black bear damage.3
The writing is on the wall. Black bear populations are here to stay. Given this situation, the current best alternatives for the beekeeper in bear country is use of the electric fence and have a close cooperation/constant communication with local wildlife officials. In the long run, paradoxically, a concerted effort to save black bear will also benefit the beekeeper by preserving wild habitat essential to most of nectar- and pollen-producing plants.
1 American Bee Journal, Vol. 122, pp. 372-5, May, 1982.
2 W.G. Lord and J.T. Ambrose, “Bear Depredation of Bee Hives in the United States and Canada,” American Bee Journal, Vol. 121, pp. 811- 815, 1981
3 D. Maehr, “Beekeeping Enters the Solar Age,” American Bee Journal, Volume 122, pp. 280 1, 1982.