Fruit trees in Bear Country

Steve Oehlenschlager

5 year old buck +
I wish someone would have stopped me years ago when I had this foolish idea that fruit trees would be a nice addition to my land. I thought protecting them from the deer was tough enough. The bears will rip your heart out and crap it out every chance they get. I had several dolgo crabapples loaded with fruit last week. Last night the bear decided he needed some fruit in his diet and ate virtually everyone of them. That would be no big deal, but he proceeded to break almost every branch off the tree. Unless you want to keep your trees protected with electric fencing. Your NOT going to stop the bears. This is the 3rd year in a row this has happened. The bears ignore them until the fruit gets...almost ripe.
Do you mean that the heartache of my apple trees not yet bearing may be followed by the trauma of having a bear rip my trees limb from limb?
Might as well just go beat your tree up with an axe for fun now because you will get more enjoyment out of it than when the bear does it for you. The bear even left me a huge pile a few feet away from the tree to remember him by. Just full of apple seeds too!
This is so great to hear since bears have just moved in the last couple years. At least we finally have a bear season and it is open to everyone the entire length of deer season. Hopefully that will knock them back to where they spread from.
Chummer - Don't bet on it. Here in Northern Pa. the bear season opens the week b-4 deer gun season. The S.O.B.'s have fattened up on anything not made of iron and they disappear every year around our camp by the opener. The only thing we found that keeps the bears off the fruit trees ( somewhat ) is 5 ft. tall concrete mesh in a 4 ft. dia. staked down tight w/ re-bar or rigid conduit. They just seem to stand up & get what they can reach easily. I've seen 'em eat crabapples that way. Only the lowest
outer limbs seem to get any damage. We make sure to have lots of other food sources so the focus isn't all on the fruit trees. I'd LOVE to see a Sept. 1st opener for bear.
Knock 'em down b-4 apples come on big-time.
We have a black bear season, but unfortunately I have not gotten a license in 3 years. It would not matter since bear season is not open for another 3 days and the damage is already done. My one piece of land is a bear magnet. There is ALWAYS at least one bear in this piece of woods. It normally is the summer home range of a sow with cubs plus any passing adult boars. There is plenty of "wild" food available such as hazelnuts and normally acorns. And about this time of the year they really start hammering my corn but they just can't resist a nice ripe crab apple. My trees still have wire around them but they just pushed it to the side. A 300 pound bear (or bigger) has not problem with about anything in its way. Going to be fun next year with a solar electric fence keeping my bees safe from them next year when I put some hive up there.
Most of the bear problems in trees is from cubs, not adults. You can help strengthen branches some by training them to a 60 degree angle and by shortening branches. In the spring cut longer branches back a little to a side branch. It will strengthen the main branch, but will also cause more side branches to start. Be mindful of that and cut out any strong strong suckers in the summer. Also make sure the side branch you cut back to is growing in a direction you want the growth to go.

These steps are certainly not going to stop all the bear problems, but it will help.htn.jpg
It's frustrating for sure, but growing trees in bear country is possible. The bear density in our area of WI is probably just about as high as anywhere in the country but I still see plenty of full grown apple trees growing in abandoned homesteads and on the edges of farm sites. I'm sure the bears tear up the trees occasionally, but somehow they do live even though they may not be pretty. I had a bear tear off a few large branches last year when my trees produced their first apples. Now my plan is to pick off all the apples for the near future which should allow the trees to grow without being hit by bears. Eventually the trees should get large enough that the can survive despite significant damage.

Now I plant trees with standard rootstock partly because I think the larger trees will be able to take more bear punishment than some of the semi-dwarf options.
From my experience being around many bears over the yrs., I agree w/ Maya. The biggest one I saw actually up IN the tree was about 100 lbs. After a couple broken branches and kissing the ground from 20 - 25 ft. up twice, it learned it's lesson. The mother bear never tried to climb the tree. The bigger bears seem to know to just roam & clean up the drops. I don't think they want to waste the time & energy climbing when they can make the rounds on the ground, going from camp to camp and gobbling the freebies. I've seen lots of instances where the bigger bears just stand up on their hind legs & are satisfied with what they can reach, so your idea of bigger trees - bigger wood may be the ticket. Hope it works for you!
Copy that, NH!!! If only archery season for deer also included bear here in Pa. I've had so many bears right under me during archery season in the past! By the time bear season rolls around in late Nov. the bears have gone underground, I guess. Nobody around our camp sees them then when out hunting them!:mad::(