What Does A Bear Do In The Woods? Just Ask Brian.
Ordinarily, our garden guide, Brian Cruey from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, offers advice for home gardeners. But a situation came up that prompted Brian to think that maybe RI readers who experience regular visits from wildlife would have some words of wisdom for him.
I am being terrorized by a family of bears.
Now, I’m not one of those people who moves to the middle of the woods and then is surprised to find themselves surrounded by wildlife. As a matter of fact, I consider myself very lucky to live in a place where nature — bugs and all — are a part of my daily life.
My affair with the bears started around Christmas when my dad gave me a game-cam. I live on 130 acres in Otis and often wonder who else shares my little corner of earth (or heaven, as I like to think of it). A game-cam, by the way, is a motion-sensored, waterproof digital camera. It is a small box that comes with long, adjustable straps so that you can secure it to tree trunks. Whenever anything passes in front of it, it snaps a photo (or video) with a date and time stamp. It even comes with an infrared flash to capture images at night. Game-cans are often used by hunters, bird watchers, wild life enthusiasts and people who are suspicious of their house cleaners.
The game-can introduced me to my bear neighbors. About two months after setting up the camera deep in the woods, I downloaded the photos and was delighted to see a young black bear amongst the lineup of porcupines, squirrels and myself walking the dogs on the trail. “Oh wow, a bear! How cute!” I thought. Subsequent months of game-camming revealed that the bear LIVED for the limelight and I got a lot of good shots of the bear hamming it up for the camera.
If only the bear had stayed on camera. About four weeks ago, I was out near the flowerbeds, relaxing with a glass of wine and watching the bees in my two backyard beehives, when I noticed the top cover to one of my hives was off, though the bees themselves seemed to be undisturbed. We’d had a pretty nasty bout of storms the night before so I assumed that the top had been blown off in the wind. I recapped the hives and thought nothing of it.
Then, two weeks later, all hell broke loose. Like any normal day after work, I went to the gazebo with a glass of sparkling rosé over ice (don’t judge me) and noticed immediately that one of my hives was in complete shambles. Hive frames were all over the place, strewn from my garden into the woods. A large fothergilla shrub was trampled and destroyed (sadly, one of my favorite shrubs) and there were bees everywhere.
After chugging the rosé, I got my bee suit on and started doing triage on the hives which were, surprisingly, not too damaged. There were only about three frames that were unsalvageable so I was feeling pretty good that the hives would be OK. That same night, the hives were hit again, and this time the damage was much more severe — but still not unsalvageable. I managed to get them back in order and decided to move them to the dog run, which is fenced and has an electric current running over a top wire (a new addition as my dogs have very recently learned how to climb the fence and escape). Surely, the bees would be safe in there.
They weren’t. And from that point on I began finding every day that there were a lot of things that weren’t safe on my property. After another hit on the hives, the bear (I’d figured it out) ripped a screen out of my gazebo. The following night, a text from my neighbor confirmed it: “Brian it’s Mary from down the street. The bear going through your trash in your front yard is ADORABLE.” (Mind you, the trash is housed in a shed that I thought was bear-proof.) The next day I got home and my chickens were out of their run having the time of their lives free ranging in the yard. Guess the bear figured out how to open that door too — though thankfully, it spared the chickens and just ate the scraps that were supposed to be for them.
This past weekend marked the end of my bees. A last-ditch effort to keep the hives together with tension straps didn’t work: they were ripped apart and totally destroyed. By that point, though, there wasn’t much left of them and frankly, the daily routine of salvaging my beehives was wearing me down.
After talking to my neighbors, I learned that I wasn’t the only one having a problem. Grills overturned, coolers raided, fences breached…we were all being pestered with this bear and it wasn’t going away. It was really disheartening and honestly I was getting a little depressed about it. I felt like I was failing to keep my home and my animals safe and I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m still not.
But then yesterday, I was driving home down our dirt road and just about hit a big black bear as I rounded a corner a little too fast. After slamming on the breaks, I was just starting to think, “Too bad I didn’t hit and kill that son of a…” when two little bear cubs crossed the road following the bigger bear into the woods. Another larger bear crossed after them.
At that point I had two realizations: 1.) Holy $#!% There are four bears, not one. 2.) I can’t be mad at these bears. They are just doing their thing and I’m going to just have to figure out a better way to keep them out of my stuff. A stronger electric fence, a better door to the trash shed, dogs that aren’t completely worthless when it comes to guarding the place. I’ll figure it out. Because at the end of the day my gut reaction is still “Oh wow, a bear!”