In my mind it is impossible to separate Bear from his mythological roots in native American as well as Paleolithic culture. Few animals symbolize so many different qualities so persistently: power, loyalty, aggression, wisdom, protection, wit and stubbornness. We are fortunate that American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) populations are healthy and widely distributed across North America. They are prominent neighbors in western Massachusetts, and can often be seen in broad daylight in areas where large tracts of woods and swamps abound.

 

Black bears hibernate, consuming 25-40% of their body weight between snowfall and snowmelt. They are omnivores whose diet consists mostly of vegetation including roots, tubers, berries, young shoots and forbs. It is the remaining part of their diet that should concern beekeepers--specifically their appetite for insects, grubs, trash and birdseed rich in protein and fat. Contrary to popular thought, though bears certailnly seem to enjoy the taste of honey, it is the larvae contained in the comb that they relish. If you're a woodland bear, a good helping of milk-white bee brood garnished with nectar and pollen has the makings of a gourmet meal.

 

H.  Beekeepers & black bears

"Among the military fraternities of ancient Germany a young man, as part of his training to stifle inhibitions against killing, was required to strip naked; to dress himself in the hot, freshly flayed skin of a bear; to work himself into a 'bestial' rage: in other words, to go, quite literally, berserk. 'Bearskin' and 'berserk' are the same word. The helmets of the Royal Guards, on duty outside Buckingham Palace, are the descendants of this primitive battle costume."

 

-Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

 

We protect our bee yards from bear attacks using a three- or four-strand electrified enclosure. To save money, we assemble our own photovoltaic fencing kit. It consists of a brood box with a solid bottom and top, with a PV module on a 45 degree angle which we point due south. This box has a ventilation hole for battery off-gassing and serves to contain the battery, fence energizer and battery charger. The PV module is connected to a Morningstar Corp. charger/conditioner, which in turn is connected to a 12V deep cycle marine battery. We use a 0.5J Patriot 110 energizer, which is also connected to the battery. The "hot" lead from the energizer connects to three strands of fence wire and the ground connects to a galvanized steel rod driven at least two feet into the ground. To date, we have not had a single bear attack on a bee yard with the described fencing. (Hopefully it'll stay that way!).