The bears and the bees can be a bad mix as Barry Wilson found out this week.
The bears he knew about because every fall they come onto his acre-and-half Juniper Drive property to snack on apples and grapes, but he only just learned about the bees.
Wilson and his wife were awakened Thursday around 3 a.m. by their angora cat Dolly and some loud noises coming from beneath their attached cottage. When he went to see cause of the banging in the daylight he found a bear had torn a number of boards from the bottom of the building exposing more than a half dozen honeycombs. Wilson believed it was the second visit by the bear in as many nights to the previously unknown honey cache.
Claw marks and muddy footprints could be seen on the bottom of the building and the supporting columns and shards of yellow insulation were scattered on the ground beside the honeycomb debris.
“The first time we didn’t hear him, but last night we did and the cat was making noise and was all fluffed up. That bear was really aggressive,” recalled Wilson looking at the damage. “We couldn’t see him because it was so dark and I’m not going out at three in the morning because it’s really dangerous.
“If we have to go out when it’s dark we have a panic button on the car keys so I push it and it honks the horn and he won’t be there.”
The next step was for Wilson to find a way to eliminate the sweet attraction before the bear could do any more damage to the building. Enter orchardist and fledgling beekeeper Brad Wiebe of Okanagan Falls who admits to having a “passion” for the winged creatures. After arriving at the Juniper Drive home Thursday afternoon he dressed in his protective bee suit and armed with a modified shop vac began the removal process.
The first thing he did was use the vacuum which has a wire mesh inside, to suck the bees into the machine in which they would later be transported in to his orchard where he has several other hives.
“Once you’ve got all the bees contained in the vacuum cleaner then you start cutting the wax as close to the building as you can and I take it out and put it into hive frames and put those in a hive box,” said Wiebe who runs The Apple Bin on Eastside Road and uses the bees to pollinate his fruit trees. “When I get home I take the bees and dump them back into the box and and they’ll be mad for a few hours and after that they’ll calm down and go, ‘OK this is our honey, it’s still here and this is our business and we need to get to it,’ and they’ll look around and see where they are and figure out where the next source of food is and go from there.”
As he pulled off portions of the bear-damaged covering, it exposed more honeycombs some with honey, pollen and some containing larvae. Also visible were damaged combs which had been rummaged through by a bear snout or two.
“By the size of this I would say there would probably be about 20,000 bees inside and another 10,000 who are out and about right now and will come back later,” said Wiebe as the bees swarmed around him as he worked and adding he would likely have to come back for the others. “I would say this has been here for about three years.”
Wilson had called the Conservation Service and also on Thursday officers dropped off a live bear trap on his property in an attempt to catch the bear responsible.