A new bill aims to keep honey-loving Winnie the Pooh and his bear friends from hitting some hives in Maryland.
The bill, introduced by Delegate Mike McKay (R-Allegany & Washington Counties), would permit the killing or wounding of any black bear that threatens a bee colony.
"In Western Maryland, we do have professional beekeepers who actually own colonies on their own land, and unfortunately, the penalties for killing or wounding a black bear is a $1,500 fine and up to six months in jail unless you actually kill the bear going after your livestock. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources does not categorize bees as livestock," said Delegate McKay.
On their website, DNR advises beekeepers to protect their property before a bear discovers a food source on their land. They recommend installing electric fences, mechanical fences, or elevated stands.
Delegate McKay said fences aren't enough to protect beekeepers who invest anywhere from $300 to $600 to maintain their colonies. He said unlike the Eastern Shore where there are typically no black bears, there's shale beneath the soil in Allegany and Garrett counties, making the soil too shallow for fences.
"An electrical fence is a false sense of security," said McKay.
DNR received an average of six reports of damage to bee colonies annually. The department has a reimbursement fund to compensate beekeepers with at least $200 of damage and they provide free electric fencing to any beekeeper that has sustained bear damage. Two claims are reportedly filed by beekeepers each year.
McKay added that the bill makes no mention of wild bees in a tree, and the penalty exemption to killing or wounding black bears is to extend the same protection to beekeepers that landowners have when protecting their livestock.
During a hearing Tuesday, Delegate McKay even wore a Winnie the Pooh vest to make a point that he's not against black bears.
"We're not advocating the killing or wounding of black bears, we love bears, we love Pooh," he said. "Even Christopher Robin needed to grow up and we need to have a serious conversation about protecting these beekeepers."
Under the current law, a person must have a hunting license and a black bear hunting permit in order to hunt black bears in the state.
The permit is only available through a lottery process and valid for the hunting season, which in 2016 was four days in October. The permit only applies to certain counties and only one black bear may be harvested per permit holder for the season.