While the image of a bear fighting off attacking bees to steal their honey may seem humorous to some, it’s no joke to a local business.
Queen Bee Honey, in Lovell, suffered more than $25,000 in damage and lost production last week when a black bear tore through hives near the Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area on Monday, July 23. Adding insult to injury, a hail storm Thursday caused more damage to the business.
Ben Zeller, whose family has been in the bee business since 1907, said this isn’t the first time a bear has raided their hives.
“It [the bear] wasn’t finding much,” Zeller said of the recent raid. “That yard didn’t have a lot of honey in it so it went through every single colony knocking them over.”
Queen Bee produces about 200,000 pounds of honey a year, used mainly at Queen Bee Gardens to make sweet candies. The candy has been sold throughout the U.S.
Zeller performs many duties for the company started by his grandparents — from sales to deliveries, maintenance and computer work as well as pulling honey from the hives.
“I’m kind of the catch-all for the business,” Zeller said.
Zeller has contacted the company’s insurance company and already met with Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials for conflict mitigation; the state will foot a portion of the bill for the bear’s sweet lunch.
“Sometimes a bear will get in and knock a couple hives over, but this was a mess,” Zeller said.
Along with taking the available honey, the bear broke hives, scattering pieces everywhere. Zeller would have normally attended to the damage immediately, but he and his brothers Daniel, of Powell, and Jason, of Lovell, were busy helping friends and family in Lovell repair damage and board up windows after the Thursday night storm.
“We’re just going up the block trying to help,” Zeller said. The storm damaged his vehicles and his home’s screens and siding, but new windows passed the test, as the hail bounced off.
The damage to the hives was more concerning, Zeller said.
“It’s a total loss and we’ll have to rebuild next year,” he said.
It also means the bees from the hives have been lost — and they won’t be available to be shipped to California as pollinators for hire.
Most of the company’s hives have fences to keep bears out, but the honey is too tempting and barriers don’t always work. A grizzly got into one compound in the North Fork three years ago, throwing hives 20 feet over the electric fence and climbing out for lunch, Zeller said.
Despite damage to upstairs windows at Queen Bee Gardens, which opened at 244 E. Main St. in downtown Lovell in 1976, the candy operation was unaffected by the storm. The company opened a branch in Greybull last year and the candy business is growing.
“Who doesn’t like honey — especially bears?” said Jason Zeller, confectioner for the company.