Bears and Bees in the Sunshine State

Compared to viruses, Varroa mites, Nosema, pesticide damage, and the myriad of other problems we are facing, bears (Florida black bears of course) are one of the more (if not the most) straightforward problems beekeepers have in terms of keeping their bees alive. On most occasions a good electric fence will do the trick, but for some reason bears seem to have been more of a problem in Florida than usual. Yards that have never had a problem will be completely destroyed overnight even with a fence. I personally had one of my yards demolished with an electric fence within a fenced pasture. They came back four nights in a row. The bees were gone by the fourth night but the bears broke into my shed and destroyed 700lbs of honey in search of brood that wasn’t there. So why is it that bears seem to more of a problem in recent years? Simple. There’s more of them and with increasing land development and sprawl there is less natural habitat for them to forage.

This serene behemoth was one of the 4 bears that got into my hives in Micanopy, FL in May 2015. He was accompanied by a mama with 2 older cubs. Taken with a game cam by Kendra McKenzie
This menacing brute was responsible for the destruction of one of the Uf’s Honey Bee Lab’s satellite apiaries


According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the black bear population in Florida has increased 30% since 2002, increasing from 2,630 to 3,421. This is a very conservative estimate. With an increase in human/bear interaction, the FWC has been looking for ways to control the population and one of the proposed plans was passed this week: Bear season. Florida has finally joined the 32 other states that have some sort of bear hunting season in place. After much debate and controversy, the plan for a limited season passed on with a 5-1 vote on June 24, 2015, only three years after they were removed from the state’s endangered species list. The season will last one week and is scheduled to start on October 24th and applies to four out of the state’s seven Bear Management Units (BMUs). Map of the BMU’s found here:

In April 2014 bears destroyed an entire yard of 30+ bees belonging to the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab. This pic is where the bear tried to dig under the electrified fence. Photo: University of Florida
Some of the wreckage… Photo: University of Florida

Time will tell if this management strategy will be effective in terms of reducing bear problems for Florida bees and their keepers. Every beekeeper has their own method of building bear fences so I will not presume to make suggestions other than hanging bacon or some other treat on the fence. We know that even the best fence might not hold up against a very motivated mama bear, but if anyone has any tried and true tips or tricks or would like to commiserate with a woeful (or successful) bear tale, we’d love for you to share in the comments!



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