Gerald Reinke has been tending beehives at the mouth of Hawk Creek in Renville County for 45 years.
“Never, never, never had a bear down here,’’ said Reinke
Until this spring, when he found two black bears tearing apart hives on his property where Hawk Creek joins the Minnesota River just downstream of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park and near Renville County’s Skalbekken Park.
“It’s the perfect set up,’’ said Reinke of what likely attracted the bears. The property includes lots of woodlands, water, and plenty of wild foods, not to mention 75 active bee hives and apple trees on his property.
Reinke no longer owns the hives, but allows a beekeeper from Butterfield to keep hives on the site. Reinke keeps an eye on the hives, and noticed damage to a couple in late May. Investigating, he also spotted bear prints on a sandbar where Hawk Creek reaches the River.
The bears had opened the bottom boxes of a couple hives to get at the honey, larvae and bees they contained.
Reinke said he realized the bears were visiting the hives at night, so one night in late May he went out and waited until 10 p.m. without spotting them. The next night he returned around midnight, and less than an hour later he heard something rattling the boxes.
“So I shined a light on ‘em and I had a bear standing up, hind legs. Just about the time I turned the light on he turned the hive over,’’ said Reinke.
He shined his beam of light about 25 yards to the north of the first bear, and there were another set of eyes reflected. This bear had already torn apart a hive and was lying on the ground, eating.
Reinke dropped both of the bears with a shotgun. Reinke said he had reported the predation problem and Minnesota Conservation Officer Ed Picht came to retrieve the bodies. He estimates the bears weighed around 200 pounds.
“Like candy to a kid,’’ said Reinke of what the bee hives represented to the bears.
His experience comes in the wake of a number of reports of black bears being spotted in the area this spring. DNR wildlife officer Jeff Zajac, Redwood Falls, responded to a report of a black bear that was found in a field in Birch Cooley Township in the southeastern corner of Renville County earlier in May. It is suspected that bear had been struck by a car. It had to be euthanized.
There had also been reports in May of bear sighting near Spicer in Kandiyohi County, and in the Montevideo and Benson areas in Chippewa and Swift Counties.
Picht, who is based in Montevideo, said he’s had very few reports of bears in the eight years he has served this area. There was a bear that had damaged bee hives in the Louisburg area a couple of years ago.
This spring seems different. Along with Reinke’s bears, he has had reports of bears in the Montevideo and Benson areas. Just recently, he’s also received photos taken by a woman who has spotted what she believes to be bear scat near Granite Falls.
Reinke said the bears were already making it a practice of striking the hives, and would have continued to return night-after-night. The conservation officer told him that if he should have bear problems again, he could try placing an electric fence around the hives.
Why there are more bear sightings reported this spring is anybody’s guess at this point, according to Picht. We do not know have any way to know at this point if bear numbers are on the increase in areas to the north, and if that is causing some bears to migrate this way.
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