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Bear crossing

Bear Crossing sign: The county kept dropping hints, but I didn’t pay attention. Photo by Rusty Burlew.

Are the signs meant for the drivers, the bears, or the bees? Photo © Rich Davis.

The county where I live just erected these signs not far from my house. I’ve always known bears were in the area, but somehow the signs make them seem more immediate, more of a threat. So far, no black bears have attacked my apiary, but you never know. There is a first time for everything.


  • Quite a few years back now, I had a sow with three cubs visit my bird feeders and then the apiary. As I was getting my morning coffee ready, I glanced out the kitchen window to see my bird feeder pulled down off the fence post it was attached too. I immediately stepped outside so I could see the hives a hundred yards off. And there she was with cubs in tow. Right through the electric fence she went and then took out three of my hives. She apparently had gone back and forth a few times, as I found the leftover frames in the tree line another 30 yards off. A shotgun blast and two dogs bolting out of the house in her direction was enough for her to beat feet elsewhere. She never came back. I was able to rescue two of the hives with a little brood help from the other hives not damaged. The lost hive ended up queenless and most of the workers laying a waste in the damp grass.

  • I’m glad to be keeping bees in Rhode Island rather than in my home state of Pennsylvania. Here, though very occasionally a young bear will show up in the state, they really aren’t a factor. (Did I just write that? Am I asking for trouble?)

    • Anubis Bard, some background on Pennsylvania black bear populations.

      If you have hives out in the woods, plan on bears. If you have a couple of miles of ‘civilization’ between you and the woods bears will be a very rare sighting. They are less inclined to urbanize than raccoons or coyotes or even deer.

      Check with your local game department’s biologist for more information specific to you specific situation.

      Kent WA

  • Ugh! Yes Anubis Bard, I think you are asking for trouble. That bear last year in Rhode Island (my hives are in Glocester, RI) covered almost the entire state! I think I’d poop my pants if I ever encountered one at my hives :0

  • Two bears were spotted TODAY only 2 miles from my apiary. Yikes! Shopping for an electric fence. Any recommendations?

  • Greetings Rusty,

    I have to say I’ve seen more than my fair share of bear roaming around the forty here in NW Wisconsin and have only had one incident that caused damage to a hive. I was fortunate one afternoon to be looking out across the hayfield when I spotted a yearling bear heading toward the hives. Grabbing a boom-stick (not a broom stick), I went to see if the fencer was going to do its job or see if the yearling had any tricks up his sleeve. I got to the apiary before Winnie-the-Pooh, so I hid behind some bushes and waited patiently. I was looking around thinking he had decided on a different destination but next thing I knew he was within 15 feet of me. Then I got to witness a most beautiful thing: He walked up to the electric fence (I have to add a little something. Every spring I take strips of aluminum foil and slobber peanut butter on them. Then I wrap the foil around the fence. I space these strips about every 15 ft on all three strands of the fence.), and slowly stuck his tongue out to give the peanut butter a good lick. Bam! He took off like a rocket making some sort of bellowing noise. It was awesome. All that to say, get the fencer with the most amount of kick. I use a hundred-mile weed burner. Its enough to make me howl and drop to my knees. I wonder if the bears snicker when this happens? Oh, don’t forget the peanut butter.

    • Nick,

      Not usually. Normally they will move away from humans, but if you accidentally get between a mother and her offspring, they can kill you with a single blow. And there’s no out-running them. They look slow and cumbersome but are not.

  • Marian: Yes. I have several recommendations.

    1. Get the peppiest fencer unit you can buy. One that puts out at least a joule per pulse, and that is rated for a couple miles of fence. If there is a building with electrical service nearby, use a plug-in model, as they have more juice available and are less hassle than a solar/battery unit. Incidentally, if your apiary is up to a few hundred feet from the nearest electrical outlet, one thing you can do is put in tall posts (tall enough to walk under the wire) and run an overhead high-voltage wire from the fencer unit to the fence (the voltage is high enough that you can run the power quite a long way, while running a long extension cord to power the fence would be impractical). Oh, and get a lightning arrestor for it. I had my electric fence struck by lightning once, and it burned out the fencer unit.

    2. Put in a multi-strand fence. If you put in a single strand, the bear will just put their head down and slip under it. I like at least 3 strands, spaced a foot apart, with posts about every 6 feet.

    3. I also put up a second fence, about two feet outside of the electric fence. This second fence is two or three strands of barbed wire mounted to steel T-posts. The idea is that, first, the barbed wire slows down the bear so that it can’t just charge the electric fence and break through between pulses. And second, if the bear does try to go through, it will be thoroughly grounded by the barbed wire, so that when it touches the electric strands it will get the full benefit.

    This multi-layer fence has worked well for me. I’ve had a couple of occasions where a bear went through a pure electric fence, but I have yet to have one go through the barbed wire/electric combination.

    An additional thing you can do if there is definitely a bear sniffing around, is to hang bacon strips over the electric fence (or hang a perforated tin of some sort of canned meat from the fence by a wire). Then when the bear tries to eat it off of the fence wire, it will get the charge of its life right in its sensitive mouth. But this is more a thing to do if you’ve already spotted a bear in the vicinity and want some insurance.

  • No bears visiting my fields, but I found mouseguards have been removed from 3 of my hives…possums? raccoons? I’ll be checking the hives more thoroughly this weekend.

  • Hi Rusty,

    My hive is too close to our house to put an electric fence up. The bee supplier I purchase from suggested a dog kennel. I know this is just more of a deterrent than anything else. I read that putting small containers of pine sol around a garbage can or anything else you want to keep bears from works because they don’t like the smell. I have hung containers with pinesol on the sides of the dog kennel. My concern now is if the smell of the pinesol will affect the bees. Do you have any insight on this? We currently have had several sightings of bears and damage to bird feeders in our little town. So far, we haven’t had any damage to the hives this year. Thank you for your help.

  • Hi Rusty.

    Thank you for your quick reply. I thought I would mention that I emailed the Bee Squad at the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab asking the same question. They replied that they didn’t think the smell would affect the bees, but that just in case I should remove the container of Pinesol from the front of the hive so it doesn’t mask any Nasanov pheromone the hive might be giving off at the entrance.

    I got the bear deterrent information from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife bulletin “Deterrents Can Teach Bears to Stay Away; Help Keep Bears Wild.”

  • Hi Rusty,

    I live along a river near a forest, so I get bears constantly & numerous. I had seven in one day. They just use my property as a path back & forth.

    We have a bee fence plugged into an electric outlet & it does work very well. I have seen several attempts at the fence by yearlings & as soon as one touches it & gets zapped, none of that family ever even approaches it again. HOWEVER, as mentioned above, you have to bait it. If you don’t, they can knock right into the fence without hurting themselves through their thick fur. You have to get them to touch the fence with their nose or mouth. Sounds cruel, but it does work! My mentor had told us to put bacon on the fence which is what I’ve done. I then reverted to cheap hot dogs because – and this is the reason I am searching for answers – birds devour the bacon & now also the hot dogs! I put 4 pieces of bacon out yesterday & it’s all gone.

    I was VERY happy to see above the peanut butter suggestion – cheaper at least, but my biggest concern is that we go to Florida for a month mid-winter. If the birds remove all of the peanut butter, and we get a thaw so that the bears come out, I’ll be in trouble.

    I am just wondering if anyone out there has had the same problem, & found a solution. If so, please share. I think the solution would be to find something the birds won’t eat but still attracts bears. Any ideas anyone?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Ann,

      Interesting problem. Can anyone help out with this?

      How about putting a section of the wire through a length of pvc pipe, and then stuff the food in the center of the pipe. The bears could smell the food and try to get it, but the birds couldn’t.

  • PS I had read about putting ammonia or pinesol on compost to keep the bears away. I tried that – pored almost a whole bottle in our little bin, & a bear stuck her head right in & took out watermelon rind & ate it.

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