Perry considers regulations as beekeeping grows as hobby

September 24, 2012

From: The Telegraph (Georgia)

 

By CHRISTINA M. WRIGHT

 

Bees are, well, the bee’s knees.

 

“Nine times out of 10, you’re wearing a cotton shirt,” said Bear Kelley, president of the Heart of Georgia Beekeepers. “You can thank the bees for that. Because they pollinated the cotton. Thirty percent of what we as humans consume is pollinated by bees.”

 

Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said that’s why City Council is considering an ordinance to allow — but regulate — urban beekeeping. Beekeepers have spent recent months explaining the importance of honeybees, the precarious state of the honeybee population and why a growing number of people want hives in their yards.

 

“They are needed and necessary and wanted,” Faircloth said. “We (don’t) want to do anything to curtail the raising of them in the city.”

A growing hobby

 

Beekeeping has skyrocketed over the past five years, according to Kelley and Steve Nofs, president of the Georgia Beekeepers’ Association.

 

According to Nofs, there are 1,500 commercial beekeepers and 200,000 hobbyists in the U.S. The insects are even presidential now, with first lady Michelle Obama moving hives to the White House and former President Jimmy Carter’s recent request for hives from Kelley.

 

In the past five years, the Heart of Georgia Beekeepers group has grown from 20 members to 120 members, according to Kelley.

 

“People are realizing that when they plant their garden, bees do … a lot more than fertilizer (does),” Kelley said.

 

Ask the beekeepers why they’re running toward bees and not away, and they’ll roll out a string of statistics on just how important the little buggers are.

 

“They work themselves to death,” Kelley said. “They work hard, and they do a wonderful thing for the environment, and they do a wonderful thing for we humans.”

 

Bees live six weeks. It takes 12 of their life spans to produce a teaspoon of honey. In a season, each hive produces 80 to 100 pounds of honey, which includes their winter supply and excess that allows humans to siphon.

 

Though not scientifically proven, many believe the pollen in local honey helps area residents fight infections.

 

Besides the natural honey, bees also pollinate crops Americans depend on for food, clothes and aesthetically pleasing gardens. The pollination process results in bigger, better crops, Kelley said.

 

“People don’t have a clue to (bees’) benefits or what not, all they know is ‘I don’t want to get stung.’”

 

Everyday Georgia honeybees are not like those in the movie “Killer Bees!,” the beekeepers said.

 

Bees inherently prefer not to sting because they die afterward in the most uncomfortable way. Kelley said honeybee stingers have barbs that connect it to the bee’s body. When that stinger is used, it stays with the human and rips out the bee’s entrails on the way out.

 

“The only time they’ll sting you is in defense of their colony,” Kelley said. “If you’re swimming in a pool and you see a bee, she’s not going to bother you unless you bother her.”

 

Inevitably, bees will sting as a beekeeper removes honey, but it’s not deadly or very bothersome, Kelley said.

 

“We’ve had bees buzzing around us, and they’re fine,” Kelley said of a morning trip to the hives wearing shorts and flip-flips with no protective gear. “They’re just checking us out.”

Impact of population decline

 

Beekeeping first began to trickle back into everyday Americans’ lives after 2006 reports of unexplained honeybee population declines.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research teams, the honeybee population has decreased an average of 33 percent annually between 2006 and 2011. Last winter, losses dropped to 22 percent.

 

“A one-year drop is too short a time period to count as definitive improvement in honeybee colony survivorship,” the USDA website on honeybees states.

 

The main contributor to the population decline has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, according the USDA. Colony Collapse Disorder is when worker honeybees suddenly disappear from their hives, leaving the queen behind.

 

No specific cause of the disease has been found. Unexplained honeybee disappearances have been reported throughout history, but it’s not clear whether those were also Colony Collapse Disorder.

 

According to the USDA website, there are about 2.5 million honeybees nationwide. Even with the recent years’ beekeeping interest, the population is a far cry from the 5 million reported in the 1940s.

 

The U.S. government and bee enthusiasts have taken the population decline seriously because the loss of bees could disrupt nature’s balance, just as it did in “Bee Movie.”

 

“If losses continue at the 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry,” the USDA website states. “Honey bees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of honey bee pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs.”

Working with cities

 

Nofs and Kelley said beekeepers are working hard to avoid that problem. It’s why the organization fought back when a Perry resident complained about a new beekeeper in the city.

 

“During the research of the complaints, we discovered the Perry Land Development Ordinance did not cover beekeeping,” said Mike Beecham, Perry director of Community Development.

 

Nofs said cities vary in their reaction to urban beekeeping. Some don’t say anything, while others insist on regulations.

 

The Georgia Beekeepers’ Association steps in when governments choose the latter, especially if there’s talk of prohibiting the hives. The city of Albany and Fayette County were two such governments, according to Nofs and Kelley.

 

The Georgia Bee Law says no city can ban beekeeping; however, cities have tried — and failed at — sweeping bans under other city regulations.

 

“Once we came in and educated the people and city leaders (on bee management and benefits), they sat down and negotiated,” Nofs said. “Once the education takes places, we find that they come around.”

 

In 2010, the city of New York passed an ordinance allowing beehives in the city limits, and other cities have followed suit.

 

Perry City Council is the first Houston County government to take on the matter. Centerville has not explored it, according to City Manager Patrick Eidson. Neither has Warner Robins.

 

Nofs said Perry City Council has been open to the hobby, though city leaders did need bee education. Afterward, the city worked with the bee organization to find restrictive but not prohibitive laws.

 

The proposed regulations include keeping the hives a safe distance from neighbors’ property lines, installing flyway barriers and registering each new hive with the city. The only ban is against Africanized bees, which the local beekeepers agreed with.

 

Council will review the final version of the beekeeping ordinance Oct. 2.

 

Africanized bees are a hybrid of African honeybees of the 1950s and European honeybees that were brought to the U.S. when colonists settled. The bees, currently shying away from Georgia, have a swarming tendency and aren’t the kind hobbyists keep, Nofs and Kelley said.

 

“If they moved into the state, I wouldn’t keep them,” Kelley said.

 

Faircloth said he has learned more about honeybees than he every thought he’d want or need to know, but the education was enlightening.

 

“I would hope more people will start raising them,” Faircloth said.

 

The mayor won’t be taking up beekeeping anytime soon but urges residents to welcome their new neighbors.

 

Bees are “no worse than having a dog next door,” he said. “It’s just a different hobby. And they’re worthwhile.”

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