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The Bears and the Bees: Clayton County's Bear Reports

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CLAYTON COUNTY, Iowa — Bob Fassbinder knows that beekeeping is a delicate craft, so dependent on variables out of his control.

“In 39 years of beekeeping, this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this,” said Fassbinder.

He said, back on July 8, he found one of his 60 hives throughout Clayton County all torn up, the hives and boxes strewn all over a patch, with grass marks on the panels.

“Raccoons can’t do this. It takes a little power.”

Just up the hill from this particular beehive, Mike Morris said he heard his wife call him outside last Sunday, July 14.

“All of a sudden, I heard, ‘Mike, there’s a bear!’,” said Morris. “So I come running out and I saw a bear. Then, as I looked, there’s two cubs following her and they just took off in a cornfield.”

Both men had photographs of the scene, Morris following the tracks and Fassbinder with images of the damage to his nearby bee stations.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife depredation biologist confirmed this week that tracks and feces did come from a black bear. The DNR also has said, if the report of cubs are correct, this would bring the first documented report of cubs in Iowa in more than 140 years.

Morris said he has set up a trail cam to watch for any further activity and Fassbinder confirmed the DNR set up a nearby camera fixed on his beehive that he said bears hit just days ago.

Back in his element of the beehive, surrounded by about 1.5 million bees in this patch alone, Fassbinder showed exactly why a bear would target this spot for a meal.

“The bears, yes, they’re interested in the honey but, oh boy, if they get the brood, the young bees, the larvae, the pollen, this is what they really love,” said Fassbinder. Along with the beehive, Fassbinder pointed out raspberries, gooseberries and wild plums growing just feet away.

“It’s a complete smorgasbord for them. What more could they ask for?”

As word spreads about bear reports in Clayton County, Fassbinder said he does not want the animals harmed.

“I don’t want to see the bears shot,” said Fassbinder. “I just don’t want them to mess with my beehive. That’s all.”

DNR leaders are urging people not to approach the area to try and look for the bears and, if they spot them, to leave them alone and not feed them. Vince Evelsizer, DNR furbearer and wetland biologist, said that wild bears typically avoid people and keep moving.

Fassbinder hopes the bears do keep moving along, especially in this year where the honey production is so light due to the weather. He said the DNR has dropped off repellent to try and keep them away.

“Apparently, the honeybee and the black bear are two species that don’t coexist very well.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8609;

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