We studied American black bears (Ursus americanus), on the northwest periphery of Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia, to assess landowner attitudes toward bears, estimate the extent of damage to commercial honey bee operations by bears, and evaluate methods to reduce bear depredations to apiaries. We collected 8,351 black bear radiolocations and identified 51 bee yards on our study area. Twenty-seven of 43 home ranges contained ???1 bee yard, averaging 11.3 and 5.1 bee yards/home range of males (n = 7) and females (n = 20), respectively. From 1996 to 1998, we documented 7 instances of bears raiding bee yards within our study area and 6 instances in adjacent areas. All but 1 of the 13 raided yards were enclosed by electric fencing. In the 12 cases of damage to electrically fenced yards, however, the fences were not active because of depleted batteries. Based on compositional analysis, bear use of areas 800-1,400 m from bee yards was disproportionately greater than use 0-800 m from bee yards. Bears disproportionately used bay (red bay: Persea borbonia, loblolly bay: Gordonia lasianthus, and southern magnolia: Magnolia virginia), gum (water tupelo: Nyssa aquatic and black gum: N. sylvatica), and cypress (Taxodium spp.) and loblolly bay habitats, however, compared with slash pine (Pinus elliottii) or pine-oak (Quercus spp.), where bee yards usually were placed. The distribution of bear radiolocations likely reflected the use of those swamp and riparian areas, rather than avoidance of bee yards. Distances to streams from damaged bee yards (x?? = 1,750 m) were less than from undamaged yards (x?? = 4,442 m), and damaged bee yards were closer to unimproved roads (x?? = 134 m) than were undamaged bee yards (x?? = 802 m). Our analysis suggests that bee yard placement away from bear travel routes (such as streams and unimproved roads) can reduce bear depredation problems. Our results strongly indicate that working electric fences are effective deterrents to bear damage to bee yards, even in areas frequented by bears. A survey of beekeepers indicated that apiarists often relied on more expensive, less effective, and sometimes illegal methods to protect their bee yards from bears. Beekeepers within bear range should be urged to consider electric fencing, which can almost eliminate bear damage to their yards.
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American black bears and bee yard depredation at Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia