Black Bear Boom Bedevils Beekeepers In Michigan

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — it is a dreaded sight for Traverse City beekeeper Larry Hilbert: Wood boxes comprising beehives broken and scattered, the honeycomb stripped away, the bees dead or gone.

The culprit, as it could be, as cliché, are bears. And the difficulty getting worse, ” ” said Hilbert.  

“I’m a fourth-generation beekeeper; my sons are five,” he explained. “I’ve more (bear) problems in a month compared to my daddy had in a 40-year career”

Black bear populations are on the upswing, particularly. The number of black bears 1 year old and older in this area has surged 29% to 2,112 bears — up 47% since 2000 — since 2012, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Upper Peninsula black bear populations are up 11 percent to 9,699 bears, in that time frame.

Nowhere is Your bear boom stronger than the 10-county Region of western Michigan in the Leelanau Peninsula south to Muskegon County, designated by the DNR as the Baldwin Bear Management Unit, among nine units in the U.P. and the northern Lower Peninsula.

The population growth is no accident. It is a consequence of closely restricted hunting and a desire by the DNR and hunters to bolster the bear amounts, in no small part to make for powerful, enjoyable  searches for bear hunters that might need to wait 10 to 12 years to land a license in the Baldwin unit, through the nation’s points-based, quasi-lottery lure. Some 2,845 hunters applied to hunt bear at the Baldwin unit last season. Only 80 got licenses.

There’s still plenty of habitat for bears, ” said Tim Dusterwinkle, president of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association.

“We’d love to see more bears on the landscape,” he said. “We value the bear as the premier game creature in the nation.”

But bear has meant aggravation issues garbage receptacles even more bird feeders getting tolerate snacks.

The Michigan State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning only began tracking car-bear injuries last year, and reported 61 statewide, from Gogebic County in the far western U.P. to one in Wayne County.

A bear could wreak havoc in a cornfield, munching through crops. And then there is the beekeepers, who provide pollination services for cherry and other fruit orchards and who raise and market honey.   Bees are a distressed species, and the bears do not help.

And also the more bears and people get the further potential danger arises.

On Aug. 15, 2013, Abigail Wetherell, 12, was assaulted by a bear while working on her grandfather’s house in Wexford County’s Haring Township, north of Cadillac. She  was hospitalized with cuts but recovered.  

Nearly three years later, on April 30, 2016, there was a female black bear shot and murdered by a guy in precisely the exact same township after it attacked his dog and threatened him. The DNR verified through testing it.

“Nuisance and crop damage complaints across the (northern Lower Peninsula) area have grown dramatically in the last several decades,” DNR personnel said in a February report to the Natural Resources Commission, encouraging an expanded hunt.

“Notable complaints like bluff fees, attacks on humans, and domestic pet kills have become increasingly common and have created a greater degree of concern amongst the general public and Department staff.”

Back to honey

People have a misconception that bears  are just after honey, ” Hilbert said.

“The bear basically knocks the hive and systematically destroys everything. There’s no rebuilding the hive,” he said. “You not only shed the hive; you also eliminate honey production for this year, also.

“He’ll eat the bees, the brood, the creatures. He eats everything but the wood.”

Hilbert is not alone said Tim Dekorne, president of the Michigan Commercial Beekeepers Association, which represents roughly 80 state-based beekeepers with 300 hives or more. Dekorne rattled beekeepers throughout the northern Lower Peninsula who have found bee yards off.  

“The fall, when they become hungry, is if they actually do us in,” he explained. “They are getting thicker. It gets worse every year.”

It Hilbert said.

“We’ve been complaining on deaf ears,” he explained. “It seems like a bureaucracy out of control. They didn’t care about out difficulty; all they care about is much bears.”

DNR taking action

However nicely it surfaced previously, the DNR is listening today.

After decreasing the amount of bear tags available in recent years to raise the bear figures, the state Natural Resources Commission in March, at the suggestion of DNR biologists, enlarged the bear hunt   for this autumn, almost doubling the amount of licenses available from the Baldwin Bear Management Unit into 155.

The DNR intends the tag numbers to result in 2016 than in harvest of 1,170 bears in the Upper Peninsula, up 52 bears and 355 bears in the northern Lower Peninsula.

“I believe we have been a bit overly conservative with our crop in the Northern Lower Peninsula in the past,” DNR wolf and bear specialist Kevin Swanson stated.

“Much of this is due to our hunters. The houndsmen, a number of the lure hunters, they want bears. They constantly push us to have tags. There is a lot of people unhappy this season because we raised the tags”

The DNR bases  its bear management decisions mostly on mathematics, Swanson said. But “there is a social allowance, in addition to the biological capacity, that has to be considered,” he explained.  

“We’ve probably exceeded the social tolerance of bears in the Baldwin Bear Management Unit right now.”

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs didn’t take a position on the bear quota increases, and recognizes its associates “have their own personal perspectives on respective bear management units,” spokesman Nick Green said.

“The procedure that went to the department’s choice to raise quotas was a process that people support for direction of all species — solid science, concrete biology and a thorough look at the cause and effect of decreasing or increasing licence quotas should always govern permit numbers,” he said.

The Expense of doing business

Bears have probably existed because the last Ice Age’s end. The bear was hunted after European settlers came, although black bears enjoyed centuries of coexistence with Native Americans.

“They had been treated as a vermin creature back then,” Dusterwinkle explained.  

It was that limitations were placed on bear hunting. The Michigan Bear Hunters Association helped enhance the hunting season, and advocated for protections on bear sows and cubs.

“We are primarily a conservation organization concerned with wise use of the sport in our state,” Dusterwinkle explained.

Issues with nuisance bears are “largely an instruction issue,” he said.  

“People need to be aware of garbage cans and bird feeders. They need to get put away. Otherwise, the bear becomes habituated to it, and becomes a nuisance.”

In terms of beekeepers, Dusterwinkle stated the DNR has worked with them in the past few years on “a cheap system” of electric fences that maintain “the vast, vast bulk” of bears out of their beehives.

“It’s only a cost of doing business, and it’s not expensive to perform, either,” he said.

Dekorne, who works his bee operations in Mesick, stated he has been helped by fences. However, Hilbert stated they aren’t the answer for each operator and situation.

“I’ve got over $100,000 in bear fencing material,” he explained. “It doesn’t always work. And it needs to be handled. The problem is, I’ve got over 150 places. The prospect of me catching a bear in the bee yard is slim to none. I can’t be everywhere at once. And there are places now where you will find bears where there used to be bears.”

Despite the Enlarged hunt this fall, Hilbert said, the DNR hasn’t   “gone anywhere near as Much as they Can.”    

He predicted for beekeepers to get the right to reside trap nuisance bears to be able to “take a bear at a bee yard 24/7, using a light.”

Absent these measures, some beekeepers look after the problem he said.

“The motto is, ‘Shoot, shovel and shut up,'” he explained. “Their laws turn honest, hardworking citizens into offenders.

“Don’t I have a constitutional right to protect my property?”