How do I Keep Bears Away from My Beehives?
Ask the Expert!
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Marcia Mundell from Moneta, Virginia writes:
Bears destroyed my beehive a couple of years ago. What can I do to deter them so I can try again? Some say electric fence … some say electric fence doesn’t work.
Rusty Burlew replies:
Once a bear learns the location of a beehive, it will keep coming back for more. So the best defense against bear predation is avoiding them in the first place.
Site selection is important. If at all possible, hives should be set away from the forest edge. As little as 50 away from the tree line may help, although more is better. Some wildlife agencies recommend up to 300 feet.
The prevailing winds are also important. Before selecting a site, tie yarn or survey ribbons onto a few bamboo poles and stick them in the ground so you can monitor the typical wind direction. If the wind will carry hive scent toward bear territory, it is not a good site. You want the wind to carry the hive scent away from where the bears live—perhaps toward homes or open fields. Try several different locations. Hills and buildings can have a surprising effect on local wind patterns.
Bears are extremely sensitive to odors, so it is important to collect all hive debris and move it out of the apiary. This includes wax and propolis scrapings, dead bees, burr comb, and even used mite strips. If a small animal such as a raccoon or opossum moves any of these things closer to bear territory, the bears will know food is close by and may start looking for the source.
Other bear attractants include fruit trees, compost piles, pet and livestock feed, bird feeders, and even outdoor grills. Keep your hives far from anything that may smell appetizing to a hungry bear.
After a bear successfully ravages an apiary, the problems are different. At that point, you most likely need an electric fence. To be successful with them, however, requires the opposite strategy.
Bears have thick fur and long claws, so they can very often rip apart an electric fence with little effort. To be successful with them, you need to zap the bear where he can feel it, which is around the muzzle.
To use an electric fence successfully, you need to bait the fence in a way that causes the bear to feel the shock around his face and mouth. Many people wrap the wire in several locations with bacon or with peanut butter-filled aluminum foil. These items need to be secured tightly to the wire so the bear has to work at getting them free. A few zaps to the muzzle will usually keep bears away in the future.
Just remember: Never bait an electric fence before bears become a problem because the scent will attract them. If bears are already a problem, then go ahead and bait.