If you live anywhere where bears might come visit your beehive, you need to protect your bee yard because it's only a matter of time until a bear pays your hives a nighttime visit, leaving damage and destruction in his wake. Bears are very attracted to honey and bee brood, and may suddenly decide a hive is worth visiting if they can't find adequate food during a lean season. Spring -- when hungry bears awake from their winter hibernation -- and fall, when bears are building fat reserves in preparation for winter, are the most likely times for a bear to visit your hives, but your bee yard is vulnerable almost any time of year.
Don't Give Bears the Chance
If a bear visits your hive, the damage might be minimal, just scattered boxes, a few claw swipes across frames. Or it can be more extensive, with hive boxes destroyed and frames ripped apart or even missing! What's worse, once a bear develops a taste for bees and bee brood, he will be back for more - even visiting the same hive several nights in a row.
So what's a beekeeper to do? One of the most effective ways to prevent black bears from damaging your beehives is to put up electric net fencing. Electric fences can be charged with batteries, solar or electricity directly. You must keep vegetation under the fence clear, or else the charge will not be significant enough. And you don't want to skimp on the fence charger because it takes a good jolt of current to get through the thick layer of fur and fat on a bear. And, as I learned the hard way, electric fences must be plugged in to be effective!
Bears can tell from some distance whether a fence is charged or not, and they will walk right through it if it's not charged. In fact, some beekeepers recommend baiting the fence with bacon to get the bear to stop long enough to learn what an electric fence is. Otherwise, the bear may walk right through the fence without getting shocked long enough to notice.
Placement of your beehives can also help prevent bears and other predators from visiting. Although you want a hive in dappled sunlight, avoid placing hives near the woods. At least 300 feet from the forest's edge is a good guideline. Keeping grasses mowed for a distance around the hives can help as well. A bear doesn't like to be out in the open without cover. Of course, this also puts flowering plants at a further distance from your bees.
Instead of electric net fencing, you can use multiple strands of electric wire or woven wire attached to wood, steel or fiberglass posts. Use an electric or solar charger, an energizer and a battery to power these fences as well. Poly tape and wire are other options for electric fences to keep out bears.
Make sure that whatever electric fence system you use, your fence is at least 3 1/2 feet high, with wire strands no more than 8 inches apart on a permanent fence, and 12 inches apart on a temporary fence. The bottom wire must be no more than 8 inches off the ground. Make sure that your energizer provides at least 4-5,000 volts of shock - but if you use this, be careful as it can be a hazard to humans as well. Use a good ground rod, and add a mat of chicken wire or metal roofing around the perimeter of the fence, on the ground, to ensure the bear is grounded when touches the fence.
Finally, make sure that your beehives are at least 3 feet from your fence, otherwise, a bear can reach through the fence and swipe at the hives without actually going through it.
If you do suffer bear-related beehive damage, check with your local cooperative extension office - you may be eligible for some monetary compensation to replace your damaged equipment and bees. Also, in some areas, financial assistance is available for setting up fences to deter bears.