Beekeepers hope to save honey with hunters
I have mixed feelings about legislation being proposed that is designed to help bee keepers protect their hives from black bears.
HB 5226 would allow beekeepers to bring in hunters to kill bears that are destroying their hives. The hunters would already be licensed to hunt bears in the fall, but they’d be filling their tags early, sometime in the summer, instead of hunting later during the regular bear season.
The practice would be similar to what is allowed on agricultural lands now with deer damage permits, and the legislation would amend that existing law. The problem-causing bears that would be targeted in these early hunts would not be in addition to the annual kill quota that would be set by the Department of Natural Resources.
Beekeeping groups in Michigan support the bill. The DNR is staying neutral on it, but they encourage beekeepers to use non-lethal methods such as electric fencing to discourage bears from snacking on beehives. Of course, electric fences and the constant maintenance required to keep them operating don’t come cheaply.
I like the fact that hunters are being included in the efforts to solve this problem for beekeepers, but I am not so sure that hunting alone will do the job. From what I’ve read, most bears go after bee hives shortly after they come out of hibernation, which would be weeks before a July/August early hunt would take place. It’s sort of like goose hunts held in municipalities that are having problems with Canada geese that are befouling athletic fields and golf courses – the geese spend all spring and summer processing grass on those city parks before hunters get to shoot them in September. Meanwhile, young soccer players are slipping and sliding in goose dung all summer.
I’m not advocating a year-long open season on geese or bears or any other wildlife species causing trouble for humans, and I certainly am not opposed to hunters filling their bear tags early in special situations like this one. As lawmakers and beekeepers are saying, this just provides another management tool. But an approach that combines a variety of deterrents and methods would probably still be best, much like goose numbers are being kept in check by oiling eggs, harassing birds, destroying nests and, yes, hunting.