Anyone who has read “Winnie-the-Pooh” knows that bears love honey. This year beekeeper Sandra Bornn, of local honey producers Apiverte, has experienced the truth of that statement firsthand, in what she describes as a very challenging season.
“I would say it’s about 10 times worse this year,” she said.
Since opening Apiverte in 2019, their hives have typically been attacked by bears a couple of times each year. Bornn remembers the first summer, where one of their bee houses at Juniper Farm was hit. The awnings were ripped off and the artwork painted on the hives was ruined, but the damage was largely superficial and no bee colonies were lost.
In contrast, this year they have experienced more than a dozen bear attacks on hives located throughout the area. In one case, the bear “ripped the door off, tore out the bees from inside the hive and took a walk with all the frames to go have a picnic,” said Bornn. After fortifying the hive and installing an electric fence around it, the bear returned.
Hives have been pushed over and destroyed in spite of what Bornn describes as the robust design and construction of the hives developed by Apiverte. Another hive was attacked four times.
In most cases the colonies were largely left intact, she said, but what they have lost is time spent fortifying and repairing the damaged hives.
Bornn said she suspects that climate change is part of the story and that unpredictability in the weather and a cooler-than-usual June prevented some natural food sources for bears from growing the way they normally do. This year “bears are not getting what they need in the forest, so they’re coming out looking for other food. They’re hungry,” explained Bornn. “Bears, like any other animal, are going to go for the easiest meal that they like, not the meal that they have to rip apart to get,” she said referring to the robustly-designed hives.
When the bears attack the hives, they are not only eating the honey, but the protein-filled brood chambers as well, because they are so hungry, explained Bornn.
Bornn added that we humans have moved into the bears’ backyard and will need to learn to coexist in a safe way.
Chelsea Elementary principal Andrea Gage agrees. On the first day of school this year, bears were spotted in the school playground. The ministry came, tranquilized the bears, and relocated them to a different area. The police later let the school know when it was safe for students to return to the grounds.
Gage said she saw the event as an exciting moment to educate the students about how we are sharing space with wildlife.
“It was a really obvious example of how we need to share our space and respect and enjoy the wildlife that’s here. The kids were very excited and didn’t seem too disgruntled about missing their recess,” she added.
There is currently a bear trap behind the arena in Masham and another one set up on Chemin Link in Chelsea. According to Bornn, these traps were installed as a result of reports of bear sightings made by the public to the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.
For its part, the ministry has said it has noticed an increased number of bear sightings in urban and suburban areas over the last five years in the Outaouais region. On average, 119 bear sightings are reported between the months of April and September at the Gatineau office. This year there have been 125 sightings and 76 over the past 45 days alone.
Bornn said she doesn’t know what the answer is. “I wish I had a solution,” she said. “Picking the bears up and moving them someplace else is just a temporary fix.” She added that, with all the bear sightings she has heard about this year, she is concerned about safety and is “worried that somebody’s going to get hurt.”