Southern Alberta bear boom prompts warning to fence off bee hives, remove fruit trees

As black bear and grizzly bear activity increases in some parts of southern and central Alberta, the province is working to get more landowners to bear proof their properties.

As people move west and bears move east, some landowners need education on living with wildlife

Human wildlife conflict biologist Jay Honeyman says the province is working to educate and assist landowners around bear safety. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

As black bear and grizzly bear activity increases in some parts of southern and central Alberta, the province is working to get more landowners to bear proof their properties.

Provincial human wildlife conflict biologist Jay Honeyman says the province is working to educate and assist landowners — especially in an area between the foothills and Highway 22 — on strategies like using electric fencing around bee hives and chicken coops, and removing attractants like bird feeders, fruit trees and pet food.

"If bears start getting into things like garbage or bee hives, they get into your chicken coop, that's a significant food reward for a bear that's just come out of the den, and they're hungry, and you're on their radar now, and they'll put you on their map and they'll come back and check again," he said.

"So we're trying to prevent those things from happening, because if they don't get the food reward, they don't have the incentive to come back and visit you again."

Kevin Ryan, owner of Fallentimber Meadery, says bear activity has increased steadily in recent decades. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Kevin Ryan is one of the owners at the Fallentimber Meadery near Water Valley, northwest of Calgary.

He moved there with his wife in 1981, and they now maintain more than 400 bee colonies, producing mead from the honey.

And all of this in bear country.

"We never know when they're going to turn up, so you kind of got to be ready at all times," he said.

Fallentimber Meadery owner Kevin Ryan says they've had success using shipping containers to keep bears away from their bee colonies. (Submitted by Kevin Ryan)

Ryan says they've noticed increased grizzly activity over the past decade.

"We would originally see maybe a set of tracks from a grizzly bear in a year, one going by kind of thing, but we have some resident bears that seem to be living here all the time now," he said. "And they come through the yard quite a bit. You'll see tracks coming through."

So they set up electric fences around the hives and started using metal shipping containers to store honey-making equipment. They've also started storing bee hives in shipping containers. 

Bears try to get into a bee hive and inspect a trap near Fallentimber Meadery northwest of Calgary. 0:30

And he says that's helped.

"They've gone up and you'll see paw prints on the side, and they'll sniff and have a look around and head on their way," he said.

Honeyman says the Fallentimber strategy works and says the province is hoping to educate and assist other landowners on similar efforts.

The province says anyone with concerns about bear activity on their land can call the Report a Poacher hotline at 1-800-642-3800 for assistance.