apiary creatures

Bearly there: the remains of my apiary

I always knew it would happen someday, and someday finally came. For twenty years my apiary has been in the same place, scattered along the trails that lead toward the Capitol State Forest. Just a simple gravel road separates my place from their place, so it wasn’t anything complicated for the bears to figure out.

And it’s not like I didn’t know the bears were out there. We’ve seen them when hiking, and neighbors and equestrians frequently report sightings. Nevertheless, I became complacent. I thought perhaps the prevailing winds kept the scent of the hives from crossing into the forest, and maybe it did. Until it didn’t.

Unattended wildlife

Earlier this month, we left town for a week-long road trip. In addition, we put the dog in a kennel for the duration. The dog, I think, also may have kept them at bay. At any rate, he’s always been a good early warning system in the event of intruders, including the four-footed variety.

Whatever the reason, a bear took full advantage of our absence. The photos below show four different hive stands. Three of them held three hives each, and one held two. The boxes, which I assembled with screws are in pretty good shape, the rest is trash.

The hives closest to the house — a top-bar hive, a long hive, and a single-deep Langstroth — remained untouched.

Some of the hives were simply being stored in place, so not all hives contained bees this past winter.
Some of the hives were simply being stored in place, so not all hives contained bees this past winter.
ll the ratching tie-downs were fine. The bear just pushed the boxes through them. No problem.
All the ratching tie-downs were fine. The bear just pushed the boxes through them. No problem.
Claw marks in the comb. Fingerprint evidence! Who else has such a large paw?
Fingerprint evidence! Who else has such a large paw?
The bear paused to play the "ring toss" game.
The bear paused to play the “ring toss” game.
I was surprised at how far she dragged the frames along the trail and into the woods. It reminded me marking the way with bread crumbs.
I was surprised at how far she dragged the frames along the trail and into the woods. It reminded me of marking the way with bread crumbs.
This little two-hive stand was quite a distance from the others, right next to a neighboring house.
This little two-hive stand was quite a distance from the others, right next to a neighboring house.
Some parts were "bearly" touched and others were splintered.
Some parts were “bearly” touched and others were splintered.
This hive stand was furthest from the house and closest to the forest. I assume she started here. Having great fun, she kept going.
This hive stand was farthest from the house and closest to the forest. I assume she started here. Having great fun, she kept going.
I wonder if she did this in one night or several. I have no clue.
I wonder if she did this in one night or several. I have no clue.

Now comes the hard part: what to do next and how to do it.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

181 Comments

  • I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I have one group of hives not protected by electric fence. These pictures made me realize I need to make that a priority.

    How absolutely heartbreaking.

    • Darlene,

      Seems like I sold a lot of people on electric fences! I should have listened to my own advice long ago.

  • So sorry!!

    It’s a common occurrence here in CT. We have an electric fence to protect ours, & we keep it baited, otherwise the bears will knock it down & go through. If you bait it with bacon (I use salt pork, much cheaper because the birds FEAST on the bacon), they will try to get the bacon & touch it with their nose or tongue first & that’s the end of it. Our bears are tagged, so
    I know which ones have tried it, & trust me, they do not ever go near the fence after trying it once!! They are VERY smart. And, they will be back.

    A friend with dogs doesn’t want to bait hers for fear the dogs will want to taste the bacon & w/o it the bears have destroyed her hives, fence & all. It’s devastating I know! So, so sorry!

  • So sorry to see that, I fear that my apiary might face the same destruction. I am in the middle of the woods with plenty of wildlife but for 10 years the electric fence has kept the bears out.

    Last week a huge bear came ambling through, caught on my game cam.

    I agree about the dogs, very little wildlife comes around when my little Aussie is on patrol. We will be gone for 2 weeks so hopefully the electric fence keeps them out but the smell of that honey will be very tempting.

    On the positive side, this has been the best honey year that I have ever had. Thanks for all that you do and best to you as you rebuild.

    Gary

  • Wow! I’m sorry this happened. It has to be devastating! It would be for me. I hope you are able to salvage something.

  • Rusty,

    It’s so depressing to see a bear attack on an apiary. From the looks of things, I would say it took a few visits to do that much damage. They will just keep returning each night until it’s nothing left. They want the brood mostly, because the brood is high in protein.

    The only thing to do is clean up everything. The bear will probably keep coming back until everything is gone. Here where I live in Central Virginia, a bear fence is a must. The stronger the fence the better.

    Mark A. Booth

    Amherst Va

  • I was so sad to read this! I know you won’t give up, however. Good thoughts coming your way!

  • Day’am! Right before blackberries, too! (ordering my electric fence energizer now…) I’ve got a couple 8-frame hives (mutts – mostly Russians) you can have if you want them.

    • Cal,

      Thank you so much for offering, but I need some time to clean up and rethink. Thanks for your kindness.

  • Heart breaking…..BUT you have three viable hives to rebuild from. Just have to figure out how to keep this from happening again.

  • Wow what a mess, Rusty. So sorry to see that. My girlfriends dad in CO had his hives ripped apart by bears some years ago and the state forestry dept paid to have an electric fence installed around his hives.

  • Hello Rusty! Other than feeding bears, I hope you and your family are doing well and enjoyed your much needed road trip. So sorry to hear about that, very sad when you lose your hives like that. Deb

    • Thanks, Deb. Yes, we had a great trip through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. It’s been many years since I was out that way, and it was great seeing the countryside again.

  • I will give you a colony. I just need to figure out how to get it from Eugene to Olympia.

    • Jeffrey,

      That is really sweet of you, but please just take good care of your bees. I wouldn’t want to feed the bear dessert so soon. Thank you for offering and being so thoughtful.

  • So, so sorry. I guess now would be a good chance to cycle out old frames, and drawn comb is a good resource. Hugs.

    • Thanks, Sara. It’s nice to hear from you. Yes, it’s a good time to update frames, repair equipment, and do all those things that get put off every year.

  • Ouch. I moved my yard at home last year after a double electric fence proved ineffective. You’ll figure out what the best way forward is for you. Your website and other writings are important to the beekeeping community – but you know that.

  • Do you have three living colonies in your untouched hives? And how many colonies did you lose?

    Frames can be replaced. Comb can be redrawn.

    IIRC you’ve said a bear fence isn’t practical? So no point in setting up new colonies where this bear knows about them. You may need to pull back to the one area it didn’t attack (yet). How long is a bear’s memory?

    Here’s an awkward virtual hug from random innerweb stranger. I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Dear random interweb stranger,

      Thanks for the hug. I have one colony that seems to be thriving, although yesterday while I watching the bees come and go, a mouse ran out. Now it’s surrounded by mouse traps, and I’m going to look for a nest with the IR camera before I go tearing into the hive.

      There’s no point in putting hives back where they were. It would be like setting a breakfast table for the local wildlife. I don’t know the length of a bear’s memory, but it’s probably longer than I would like.

  • Oh Rusty, that’s so heartbreaking. I’m sorry you and your bees had to lose so much.

    We had a very blonde bear visit two weeks ago just at first light (5:30). It walked right up onto our covered porch and climbed onto the picnic table right outside the living room window. I stepped out with a loaded double-barrel and sent two rather loud surprises over its head. It merely walked down through the lawn to our pond about 50 feet away and turned to watch me reload. Two more rounds encouraged it to walk! off the lawn into the forest.

    I promptly set up an electric fence around my hives. We were lucky; Pati was awake sitting on the sofa as the bear walked by her window. The bear was too, as it got no food reward and hasn’t been back.

    I hope you can process your loss. Are any of those raided colonies still alive and possibly queenright? Small to large; mites to bears. Our girls really have some enemies.

  • What a mess to come home to, looks like she left no frame unturned. Your frustration level must be off the charts. Good luck with your recovery mission.

  • Thank you for posting these heart breaking pictures Rusty. They are very hard to look at. We invest so much of our time, energy and passion into being the best caretakers possible, so seeing this level of destruction is truely sad for us all. It’s also a wake up call for those of us living next to forest lands. I even thought my tie-down straps offered protection as well, so tomorrow I’ll look at installing an electric fence enclosure. Our thoughts are with you! ❤️

    • Merrell,

      I think they would for a while, but I was gone long enough with enough bad weather that they were mostly dead.

  • I’m so sorry Rusty, I’m in Olympia and if you’re rebuilding your apiary I could make some splits for you

    • Jason,

      That is so kind of you to offer, but this year I just need to clean up, make some splits, and think about it. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness.

  • I am so sorry about your loss Rusty. My heart aches viewing your pictures.

    What to do next? 1st Stage of Grief – sharing the details of your loss is a start.

  • Devastating to see such carnage Rusty. I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine where to begin with the cleanup.

    • Linda,

      Thanks. You’re right, I haven’t even started to pick things up because it’s so overwhelming. I see a lot of firestarters for next winter, and the boxes are mostly okay. It will come together somehow.

  • Rusty,

    What a sad story, I am so sorry. I can only hope you have other colonies elsewhere from which you can rebuild. I am sure I join with many others in wishing you good luck.

    Michael

  • My heart goes out to ya Rusty. What a sight to come home to. I guess the ‘next thing’ is to just get busy cleaning up and replenishing the bees. Lesson learned. TRUST YOUR DOG, NOT A BEAR! Maybe send out a better memo next time and be sure all the bears read it.

  • Ah, this is so sad. I’m glad you have a few untouched hives. Perhaps your dog barking helped with those. Will you consider a solar electric system? They are not perfect, but help. Bears hate electric wires.

  • It is so disheartening to me to see such terrible pictures. I always look forward to reading your coming article, as I have learned a lot from them, but this one is terrible. Nature has its own laws. It’s hard but you should look ahead!🙏

  • An electric fence would have saved them. And after 20 years, you were just lucky for all of them.

  • So sorry about your hives! I live in the western hill towns of MA. We had bear issues before I started with bees so we knew we needed protection. From the start we used chain link dog kennel panels with four strings of solar powered electric fence around it. A few years ago I saw a single bear sniffing around the hives but it made no attempts to get in. Just this month bears broke into a plastic shed I use for storing my honey supers and other hive ware in. There was some honey comb in the shed from dead outs I’ve been using to new packages. Two nights later I caught them on camera after the shed again , mother and two one-year olds. Luckily in their exploration the mother touched the electric of the hives and took off like a rocket. Hopefully that was enough to keep at least this group away for awhile.

  • OH! MY! What a bad surprise. This is almost worse than starting from scratch. You did not mention if any bees were still there. Good luck as you put things back together. One of your posts dealt with too many bees. This may be your chance to downsize for a year or two and ease back into a full apiary.

  • Welcome to the “We Learn the Hard Way Club”. Our membership continues to grow. I now use 6′ chain link with spiked 2x4s around the top (every 2 inches). Large locust logs are wired along the bottom edge. All this is surrounded by electric fence. They can still get in if they really want to.

  • Darn, we have multiples of transient bears here as well. Knock wood the Livestock Guardian Dogs help [we think] keep them out of the isolated and fenced-in apiary. Gotten to the point where we have a “bear crossing” sign in the driveway as a semi-joke. We’re just 2 miles due east as the crow flies from the Rock Candy Mountain trailhead.

  • That would be tough to come home and find. So sorry Rusty. And I think you are right about the missing dog being taken advantage of. Dogs are great protectors of their territory.

  • At least the “bear or bears” could have eaten all the honey??? Rather thankless. Wow, Rusty what a bummer. At least when mites took all my hives this past winter I had endless frames of drawn comb and no damage to hive bodies or other equipment. And this is late spring! A time of building not tearing down.

  • How devastating. I live in the Upper Peninsula of MI. Bears are a problem here too. My friend had 4 hives destroyed at her place. The hives are right against her house. I guess I was lucky since I have had my 2 hives right next to the barn and I have two horses. I didn’t put up an electric fence for 2 years even though I always highly recommended anyone around here that gets bees to put an electric fence up right away. My friend who started with bees a year ago put a fence up right away since bear regularly walked through her year. Sure enough after one week, a bear showed up. The fence worked. Hers was a battery-operated fencer. I finally put up fencing on my apiary but mine is a plugged-in fencer. Now I have to make sure I always plug it in whenever I unplug it to work with the bees. Having had horses for over 50 years I have been zapped by the fencer more than once and don’t want to experience that if I can avoid it.

    • Sandra,

      I’ve never had an electric fence around my bees, but for many years we had one to keep out our neighbor’s cattle. I have touched those wires, backed into them, tripped over them, and run over them. I was so happy when the cattle disappeared, so I really dread messing with them again. LOL

  • Put an electric fence around the bee yard like they use for cows and horses or some boards with nails on the ground so they can’t walk on them.

  • Wow! So, I often wondered, in such a case, do the bees take off, or just get eaten. Or are they still around, maybe even dead and scattered about. I am not trying to put salt in the wound, just curious.

    I am sorry you had this happen to you. Losing our bees is never pleasant.

    • Ken,

      The primary reason bears love hives is the protein-rich brood. The honey is secondary. So usually, the brood is wiped out totally. The adult bees sometimes cluster on the remaining combs. Since I was gone for over a week, and there was plenty of cold and rainy weather while we were gone, I didn’t find any live bees. Lots of dead bees were piled around and scattered on the ground. I may have been able to save some had I been here. I didn’t even discover the loss right away because I didn’t check on the hives for about two days after I got back.

  • I am sorry for your loss.

    In the last three days, we’ve had a massive bee die-off. Lost 3 very healthy and productive hives, and worried about the three that remain. THOUSANDS of bees dead. Add to that our family dog went into convulsions and died this week. A neighbor found dead chickens, and yet another neighbor says she has been seeing dead songbirds.

    And. I have developed breathing problems. It is a holiday weekend, we can’t get any answers until people return to work. Even my doctor wasn’t available.

    • Lisa,

      That’s terrible. It sounds like an environmental nightmare. Let me know if you learn what’s going on.

  • I know first hand how devastating the damage from a bear can be, and how depressing the aftermath. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Two years ago the ground wire on our electric fence came unattached; the bear must have been checking the fence periodically, because he took full advantage and destroyed my hives. I put them back together the next morning, managing to save many of the bees (but no brood – those frames were licked clean!). I double strapped the hives (front-back and side to side) while waiting for my husband to fix the fence, which was a good thing, because the bear came back later that morning. He knocked the hives over but since they were double strapped he couldn’t get into them. I’m sure the bees weren’t happy but at least no further damage. Since then, I’ve been religious about checking the fence connections and voltage. And I always double strap the hives.

  • I’m so sorry for your loss!! I totally feel your pain, as we lost our apiary of 4 healthy overwintered spring hives and two new package colony hives over three attacks. Mine were initially like yours, then we fenced them but she was very determined.

    My experience is you will have to retrain her that there are no more rewards and keep your hives away for a bit, keep the dog out and have them in a fence for now.

  • What a hard thing to see. You have been a longtime mentor to me through Honey Bee Suite — I just donated to your site to help with whatever you decide to do next.

    • Patricia,

      Thank you, Patricia. That is so thoughtful! I haven’t yet decided what to do, but it will come to me with time.

  • So very sorry to hear. Sure, there are dollars invested. Dollars don’t always cover time, but mostly dollars don’t cover TLC. Bears got to 1/2 my hives this year. It’s so discouraging. Keep the faith. 1 out of 20 was a good run. God’s grace.

  • I have heard, “Once a bear has tasted honey, there is only one way to keep them out of your hives in the future.” You wouldn’t like the solution.

  • Oh my! Do you actually know if it was a female bear or were you just making a guess. What percentage of your total apiary did you lose? It is sad to see all that bee-work destroyed, but I bet the bear appreciated the banquet.

    • Steve,

      I’m just making a guess based on seeing a female and her cubs frequently in this area. I have one active colony in my top-bar hive and that’s it.

  • I am so sorry for your loss all of your honey bees. Our bees didn’t survive this winter and we so happy to see them in our backyard again. We could rescue 6 swarms this season.

  • I’m sorry too. I hope you will start again. I would miss your posts a great deal. Please consider an electric fence.

  • I was shocked and awfully sorry to hear of your losses Rusty. It must have been soul destroying to witness the devastation. Looking forward to reading about how you rebuild and getting back on track. Sending blessings and best very wishes.

  • From the other side of the pond where there are no bears – my heart goes out to you. Your wonderful advice and support has been invaluable to me as I begin my beekeeping journey.

  • Now its your turn. Back straps, steaks, bear burgers. I keep bees, but when life gives you lemons…….

      • Oh, golly. Not just “what to do next”, but even what to do first. Apparently there have been some bear losses relatively near here, has some club members discussing electrification.

        My sister spent some of her hippie days near Corvallis, OR, and their livestock included bees. A bear spent several days going up and down the back road where they lived, feasting on multiple homesteads’ bees and chickens and everything else. The community got permission to, um, deal with it, as a nuisance animal. Bear steaks all around. Although if it had been “just” bees, Game & Fish might have been less sympathetic.

  • What a horrible scene to come home to after a break. I am very sorry this happened to your hives, I can only imagine how you must feel. Hopefully, once you’ve had a bit of time you will come back fighting and outwit the bear.

  • That’s terrible to hear Rusty. I’m a bit on the vindictive side so I would figure out how to set the hives right back up but loaded with some kind of device that might explode pepper spray, deliver an unpleasant shock, leave a rancid taste in the bears mouth, trap her so you could have her relocated, or all of the above . Call it bear education. Maybe she’d associate such a bad experience with hives on any subsequent encounters

    • I would like to express my dismay at your loss, as so many other readers have done. I think that Jeff Richardson’s suggestions for “bear education” are worthy of follow-up. We do not have bears in Australia, but I know from experience that creatures in the wild have excellent memories for anything that they value, and that they will come back each year when their “favourite” item is in season again. I believe that the most effective method – or perhaps the ONLY method – to solve your problem is to entice the bear back again with something that seems to be a delicacy to the bear. Just make sure that when the bear takes that delicacy that it is rewarded with a strong electric shock.

  • I am so sorry to see that. I think your unfortunate incident just convinced me to finally put up a fence.

    Not at all to imply I think you should have! I’ve been putting if off because I didn’t think the bears would come from the forest so close to our house, but I’m probably wrong. Seeing your devastation has changed my mind, maybe partially because my hives are the same colour.

  • Very Sorry. We’ve got a couple of bears that have been getting into the neighbor’s things. Even made the local evening news. When I heard about them I put up a fence. Had a Oregon DFW gal come by and she was pleased with the fence. I ‘baited’ mine with some old lunch meat. So far they’ve left them alone.

    It’s not much of a hassle, so far.

  • Bears were the end of our beekeeping. We just kept taking on each challenge as we learned how to be beekeepers, problem solving year after year, finally arriving at a good rhythm…until the bears came. And that was the end. The remaining bees absconded and we decided we no longer had the time and energy to take on bears, too.

  • Bears are cute in the wild. In our apiaries, not so much. We too live close to Capital Forest and frequently see bears in the vicinity. I had a sign made for my husband a couple of years ago that is staked alongside our driveway that says “Bear Crossing – no, really!” Most visitors think it’s a joke but not so. Have seen bears that close just moving through the woods. I’ve stood in the living room and watched them run/walk through.

    Our bees are enclosed within a garden with a 6’foot no climb fence and we have two livestock guardian dogs very near. No doubt that has saved our bees many a time. So sorry for your loss.

    • Chloe,

      We walk on the forest trails all the time and have seen bears and cubs cross the trails right in front of us. So, yes, I have no doubt you have plenty of them, too.

  • I am so sorry that you have lost your colonies to a very smart bear. For years, I have feared that the same might happen to the hives in my apiary. I have my hives tied down and the electric fence around my apiary has quite a charge, but I recognize that a hungry bear could break through it all if it was really motivated. What makes me super nervous is that I have been seeing a 300 lb.+/- bear walk through my yard at least once a week since early spring. I bet that you can salvage more than you think. I wish you well and hope that you get up and running soon, as I look forward to receiving your notes of wisdom (I have learned so much from you) and appreciate your sense of humor. All the best to you.

    • Sandy,

      I wouldn’t like seeing this bear in my backyard. I don’t know how big it is, but it’s probably too big. I had the ratchet straps really tight, and he/she must have just pushed on the boxes and the whole thing fell apart.

  • It just happened to me too – the bear went through the electric fence and through the ratchet strap that I bought from Betterbee. Made a mess, but I was able to salvage the hive. The bear came back that evening and walked right up to me as I was trying to tie strips of raw bacon onto the electric fence wires as advised by a game warden. Then the worse part of all is that a few weeks later, I let my dog out at night, not realizing that the bear was in the back yard (it was completely dark) and the bear ripped my dog’s leg open and he needed to have surgery to close the wound.

  • Oh Rusty…I’m so sorry. You are my hero; I do wish I could send you some bees from Aus. Best of luck.

  • Rusty, I am sorry to see your years of care and study scattered in the forest. My only consolation is that one hungry creature consumed another…no pesticides, no vandals…just nature at work.

    As you establish a new balance between honey bees and bears, I will await your observations on the habits and habitat of native bees I look forward to seeing where you put your mind and energy.

  • So sorry for your loss. This happened to two hives of ours in Colorado and we were able to scoop up the bees huddled in the snow and cobble together a single hive out of the original two hives. Moved them down the mountain to another property on the plains where there are no bears! Possum, skunk, etc. – but no bears!

  • Whatever you decide about your apiary, I am truly glad you are not giving up your blog and teaching. I have learned so much. Sharon

    • Thanks, Sharon. Don’t worry, I have a “to write” list that’s longer than I can handle. Just think, without so many bees, I will have more time to type.

  • Rusty,

    Sorry for your loss. I am in the Rocky Mountains north of Montana and we have lots of bears (black and grizzly). My bee yard is surrounded by an electric fence with six hot wires and one ground in addition to the ground wire into the ground. The fence is about five feet high and starts about three inches above ground with a hot wire, then a ground and then five more hot wires. Is it overkill, possibly but I have watched bears walk right up to the fence and veer off. I have also watched a young bear come into contact with the fence two times in a row and then try and get under the fence. Not sure if it is too much, but it appears to work.

  • I keep reading through all the comments and love the amount of support you’re getting…we all owe you a ton for the knowledge you’ve passed along. Wish we were there to help with the clean-up. And, to help you get re-started when you decide your next step.

  • Dern, dern, dern!#%$@. I hate it for you. Just put up a parmak mangum 12 solar fence around my bees last week. It produces 3 joules and at least 10000 volts. Shows 13000 on the meter. Comes with rechargeable battery and supposed to run at least 3 weeks without sun if fully charged.

    As I was putting it up, I wondered if I really, really needed it. However, after seeing your losses, I feel better about the blisters from driving the fence posts in. Lots of good info on electric fences out there on Google. My understanding is you need at least 1 joule. I went over. Best wishes in your recovery effort.

  • What a downer !!! Sorry for the loss. Hope the road trip was enjoyable – just so you can salvage a little something from it all.

  • It hits hard. I was hit twice this year. First time, I was shocked. Second time, I hesitated in putting up a fence. I’m sorry for you.

  • Oh Rusty that is so heart breaking for you, nature can be a bit cruel sometimes. I’m in Sandringham Melbourne Australia and we don’t have bears but there are other predators to be aware off. Thankyou for all your posts they are always filled with good and practical advice and look forward to hearing how other dedicated beekeepers are doing on the other side of the world. A valuable lesson for all of us. Thankyou again

  • My deepest condolences, Rusty. You’re the best source of practical advice for beekeepers on the internet, and I think of you as a good friend even though we’ve never met.

    I started my apiary in Mountain Brook, Alabama, with two nucs in April 2018 and now have seven large colonies plus two resource nucs. I spent the holiday weekend harvesting 200 lbs of spring honey. Aside from a local mentor and hands-on experience, most of what I’ve learned in the last three years has come from your wonderful blog.

    Please know that your innumerable anonymous followers share in the sadness of your loss. If we can help in any way, please let us know!

    • Thank you so much, Jeff. It’s funny but I think of you all as friends, too. It doesn’t take long for me to start recognizing names and sometimes I forget that I haven’t actually met most of you. Really though, it doesn’t matter.

  • Hey Rusty,

    I’m sorry that all your work has been undone! That sucks but we keep going anyway. Lots of plants and flowers enjoyed the company and now it’s time to build it all back up! Sorry to see that but you are very good at what you do. In short time you will be back up and running with plans for a new electric fence I would hope. I’m in northwest New Jersey and just getting started. I’m learning with one hive which came through winter very strong. I love doing this and preparing to build up my apiary. I know you share a similar passion and you will be up and running before you know it!

    Take care
    Tim

  • Aw Rusty, so sorry to read your sad news… if you are interested in putting your hives inside a building, I would be happy to show you our AZ hive setup. We are less than an hour drive from you in Onalaska, WA.

  • I’m so, so sorry!
    I can make a split for you if you want to come over the mountains for it. I wish there was more I could do.

    • Kat,

      Thank you for offering! But really, I’m going to take some time to decide where to put future hives and I don’t want to rush into anything before I have a plan. This summer I will do clean-up and repairs. But thank you very, very much.

  • I live in black bear country/Blue Ridge Virginia. I manage 21 apiaries, some with penitentiary style 8′ tall electrified fences, some with no fencing (but the owner is asked to urinate near the hives weekly:). I run the gamut! I have some really dinky fences that work great too (video evidence) but it’s only a matter of time before those defenses fail. BTW, dog urine/scat helps! So many people had an incursion while they were away with their dog.

    Basically, losing hives stinks, but the bear threat has now escalated. They know where you are, and they know what you have. Things just got real. Sorry for your losses.

      • So sorry to see that. I fear that during the next two weeks the same thing will happen here.

        For ten years the electric fence has kept the bears out of the apiary but over the last two weeks, my game cam has captured two very large bears. My little Aussie dog keeps the area well marked and that makes a huge difference as the game cam only shows raccoons and deer when she is around.

        We leave tomorrow for two weeks in the north cascades so those bears are going to be much braver as they approach the apiary.
        The dry weather will make the electric fence less effective as the conductivity will be reduced between their paws and the fence.
        I hope that I luck out and come back to see the apiary intact.

        Thank you so much for all of the help that you have provided to so many people and best of luck as you rebuild.

  • Oh, Rusty, I am so sorry! I remember walking up your pathways to the hives: the deep greenery and beauty–. Stupid bear. Or rather: smart, uncaring, opportunistic, gluttonous stinkin’ pig. Ok, I’m done now. Let us all know how we can help once you’ve made your decisions, alright?

  • In your part of the country, it could have been a black (Ursus minor) or, more likely, a brown bear (ursus painus in the…).

    I have seen how bears can open a car door like we open a soda can – no simple ratchet strap will hold back that much potential force – like you said, they are persistent but they are also fairly bright.

    A bit further north of you, people build elevated platforms (I cannot recall what those are called) to keep scavengers (bears, coyotes, wolverines, etc) from stealing their game. Even though some of those animals can climb, stripping the bark from the column poles eliminates the softwood needed for climbing. The builder uses a ladder that can be removed from the platform to ascend the platform. It sounds like overkill for an apiary, but it is an option to electric fencing. I just imagine getting hives and parts up and down a 15’ ladder would not be fun. Have you considered a structural option like the Slovenian houses?

    Thanks for your articles and insights – you are my “go to” resource for all things bee and we all wish you the best!

  • Rusty, Your blog is a huge reason that I have successful hives now, for the first time, after 5 years of trying so hard. This year I harvested a little honey for the very first time ever, thanks in no small part to you. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I just hate to see this happen to you and your beefriends.

  • I am so sorry to hear this. What a shock to come home to. Probably more than one person that reads this will be putting up an electric fence now, so sharing your story will probably save someone else’s bees.
    We live near a tree farm much like the Capitol Forest which allows recreational trail use. There are bears and cougar and lots of deer. A commercial beekeeper winters his bees on the tree farm. I beleive he said he has about 1500 hives there in a few different locations on the farm. I have always wondered why he has never had a problem with bears. Maybe he moves them to pollination before the bears really get active, although there are still a fair number of hives there.

  • So sorry. That is worst than the Asian wasp. Keep two or more dogs and when going away let them stay with automatic feeders and/or ask a friend to visit.

  • Sad, and yet it’s interesting it came right on the tail of your beekeeping ethics post and a trip out of state… I’m only 2nd year with 9 colonies now… it’s easy to get more, but then I think of all the ethical implications… and all the work and damn…. it would be devastating, but at the same time maybe it’s a relief? I need to downsize some.

  • What a heartbreaker! My first closeup bear encounter was in Capitol Forest. My now husband and I were mountain biking and stopped for snacks. I spotted something in the bushes a dozen yards away and thought it was a black lab. Turns out it was a bear, casually searching for his own snacks in an old log. I’m sorry for the devastation to your apiary. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have some video footage of the bear’s foray? I can’t imagine what his/her process looked like- it seems so random in your photos. Bears will be bears, I guess. I very much enjoy your blog and website. It’s a very valuable local resource for this first-year Olympia beekeeper. Best wishes to you. 🙂

    • Shelley,

      The Capitol Forest seems to be full of bears…or else we’re seeing the same ones over and over!

  • The photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing your story and beekeeping journey. Keeps us mindful of struggle and joy / risk and reward. Best of luck rebuilding.

  • Rusty, the more I read about bears destroying apiaries, the more I think treehouses are the answer, essentially a large platform for the hives with enough covered space to hold a picnic table. It would need a large basket that could be lowered to the ground for material. Not a bad workspace for a beekeeper. Would lights under the deck dissuade the bears or irritate the bees?

    • Mary,

      Outside lights won’t bother the bees, but I don’t know enough about bears to say whether they would be dissuaded by lights.

    • While treehouses sound like a good solution, bears are, in fact, excellent climbers. They are quite comfortable in trees.

  • This happened to me (in Massachusetts) Thanksgiving week this last year. Those photos look so familiar! It’s dispiriting but, like all the other bad things that can happen in beekeeping, a real learning experience.

  • I am so sorry. We live in bear country in Virginia in the woods. We have had bears on the property and up close to the house (foot prints). We have two electric fences for bears. One was low and a 6 inch mesh and we thought a bear might just walk over it. So about two feet out we put in a 6 foot one with barb wire about 1 foot apart. Found the other day something tried to get through but looked liked they struggled and got caught on the inner one. Pulled one whole section of barb wire out. So we think it was a buck. Easier and cheaper to replace than our hives.

    I love living in the woods. Was great during covid lockdown, but share my space with large cats and bears plus smaller not so friendly animals.

    My heart goes out to you as I would be devastated with all the damage.

  • Rusty,

    I’m so terribly sorry for your loss! I was so upset when I had problems with my first hive last year and then lost them over the winter anyway. (Started another this spring.) I can only imagine how you feel about the devastation you found, especially after a much-deserved getaway only to come home to find this and the terrible let-down. I have faith you’ll bounce back, you’re too strong and good at what you do to let the bear get the better of you. Although the actual work falls on your shoulders, you have an innumerable number of real and virtual friends routing for you. We’ll all wait to hear how it’s going.

    • Margie,

      Thank you. And you are right, I’ve had offers of help from around the globe. It has been astounding and heartwarming to know people care.

  • Sorry for the loss. A lot goes into this hobby, don’t need more bumps in the road.

  • I literally ran a bear away from my hive two days ago. I literally chased it yelling and screaming 100 yards down the hill into the woods. It disappeared, scared off, but I lost my “focus” when the bear was near my bees. Please do not run after bears in the woods when angry they are about to take your bees. I know many of you say you would not do the same, but I saw impending doom and my adrenaline kicked in to protect my girls.

    My wife told me, “you are nuts…people don’t chase bears”

    As a teacher, I told my students the story and made a disclaimer about mauling and death potential if one tried this at home. I see an electric fence for my birthday! In any case, Rusty…I have had my students use your site for “research” and options for certain procedures, phenomenon and overall knowledge about bees. To be honest, I have appreciated this platform and site as I’ve also struggled to simply keep bees alive for the past five years. In any case, I have nine hives scattered throughout the Colombia River Gorge within twenty miles of my house. In this way, I am observing different protocols of mite treatment from bombing them with the strongest chemical to natural treatment. Bears…didn’t need it right now.

    • John,

      Your story reminds me of something that happened about eighteen months ago. A cougar had been hanging around the house. Suddenly, my husband yelled that the cougar was in the backyard and had just spotted my kitty (whom I adore). I ran down the hall and out the back door just as the two of them rounded the corner of the house about ten feet apart. I stepped off the patio right between them, startling the cougar and giving my cat time to flee. The cougar ran off, but my husband was in a panic. “You’re crazy! You could have been killed! People don’t do that!”

      He’s still furious about it, but I had to protect my favorite kitty! I would do it again.

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