The Bears and the Bees
By Justin Merrill

With native bee populations on the decline, desperate times calls for 40,000 bee hives to be brought to Down East Maine to pollinate over 100,000 acres of blueberry plants on Cherryfield Foods, Inc. (CFI) properties. Blueberry fields are normally surrounded by large tracts of forest. What do you suppose happens when ten or more pallets holding four hives a piece are dropped off on the edge of these fields?

BEAR DAMAGE! That’s what.

Bee hive damage can be, and has been, excessive to say the least. Those cute, cuddly black bears sometimes cause trouble and make work for humans. No time is wasted once a rebel bear leaves his mark. Culvert traps and snares are set up near the bear's travel route.

Members of CFI’s Wildlife Division get a call once bee hive damage has been found. It is CFI’s policy that damage must have occurred before any black bear are to be trapped. A quick look around for the black bears entrance into the field helps determine where to place a trap or snare (Figure 1). Attractants are placed close by the set acting as a calling card. All sets must be checked by 6:30 a.m. each morning until the nuisance black bear is caught. Someone from the Department of Agriculture that is part of the Wildlife Division gets the lucky job of tranquilizing the bear. Whoever wants to play tooth fairy gets to extract a tooth for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The date, weight, sex, where caught, where released, tag number, and any comments are recorded prior to transporting the black bear far away. The age gap of these hoodlums is from one and a half to nineteen years old (a sow can still give birth at twenty). The troubled bears are then given a ride up to twenty five air miles away.

Any sow caught that has cubs gets checked out and released immediately.

Older black bears head back home and sometimes are fooled by the trap again. Yearling black bears will sometimes establish a new home range near where they’ve been dropped off. A wise trapper dealing with older smart bear know to switch tactics. Gailen Ruhlen, one of CFI’s Wildlife Division members says that, “One simple way to fool a bear that has been trapped more than once can be by simply using a culvert trap without wheels set up right on the ground”. Gailen even told me that he’s tricked a bear that had been caught in a snare once before by establishing a fake snare set and utilizing the culvert trap to successfully catch the black bear. He’s mentioned one instance where he and Corey Smith (also worked for the CFI’s Wildlife Division) transported a large black bear 17.8 miles away on a Sunday. On the very next Sunday (one week later) the same exact bear was caught again within a couple miles of the first locale. Gailen said this bear walked twenty one miles back to his home turf. Ear tags, size, and any noticeable markings allow these bear to be identified as being the same one. Gailen’s live trapped and relocated over 116 nuisance black bear for CFI in a time span of seven years.

Maine’s Black Bear Biologist, Randy Cross, told me that from the time bears left their dens up until June 24, 2012 more than 458 complaints about nuisance bear had been recorded. Randy will tell you that people living near prominent black bear habitat need to adjust to the fluxes in bear activity. I’ve been told by Randy that bear want the most calories for the least amount spent. This means any type of easy to obtain fattening sugary food will be more appealing than needing to forage, which can be costly to a starving bear. If bear become a problem near our homes then removing all food materials will trigger the bear to move on. Human managed bee hives placed near the woods provides a quick easy energy efficient meal that has lots of calories and protein. Randy let me know that for a black bear to be exterminated – outside that of a legal hunting or trapping season – actual damage to private property needs to have been caused by the bear. In this case, privately owned bee hives being rented by CFI get targeted by those hungry black bear. CFI chooses to preserve the life of those pesky bear so that others may enjoy them.

One spring day I had the privilege of tagging along to go see a black bear that was caught in a leg snare right by bee hives that had been hit several nights in a row. This bear was above average size. He would shimmy up and down the tree he was strapped to, breaking all the branches along the way. The brute force these bear showcase can be extremely intimidating. Scary enough to make you think the bear will break free and come after you. Once tranquilized, I got daring enough to go up to the bear for a closer look. What I was really glad to see was that all precautionary measures are taken to keep the bear safe and out of harms way. Even ferns were placed over the eyes to keep biting insects from irritating the bear.

As a black bear hunter I am thankful that CFI goes through the trouble to save these black bear so they will be available for recreational purposes. On average sixteen black bear are live trapped and relocated each spring. Twenty four have been caught in the spring of 2012. Many years this number has been reached and even exceeded. Imagine if every year CFI killed sixteen to twenty four black bears – with many being sows – what would come of black bear hunting? Would Eastern Maine’s black bear population become virtually extirpated? These are questions you or I do not need to worry about asking, thanks to a conservation- minded Blueberry Company – CFI.

Justin has a Wildlife Biology Degree from Unity College. He also is a member of the Pro-Staff for Muskie Moose, Buck Expert/Mick Lacy, & Western Rivers. Justin has thousands of acres to hunt on every year and it’s not uncommon to find him scouting and hunting year round. He has almost completed his book on the topic of predator & deer hunting. He can be contacted via. E-mail: jmerrill@alumni.unity.edu.


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