To bee or not to bee is question facing city dwellers

Bugs, Blooms and Vittles
By Chandra Mattingly

How much control should government – ANY government – have over individuals' lives and property?
Local plan codes, ordinances and property association rules tell folks how far from property lines buildings must be, how many acres they must have to keep cattle, how large their houses must or can be, whether they can put up a tall fence or a sign, or fly a flag, what kind of and how many pets they can keep, how tall their grass can grow, and in some neighborhoods, whether they can have children living on the premises.

Not too long ago, Aurora City Council declined to revise its animal ordinance to allow 4-Hers – or anybody else, for that matter – to keep chickens, goats or other small animals defined as livestock in the city. Just this summer, Moores Hill Council decided to ban chickens and other fowl. And now, Greendale plans to consider whether beekeeping should be allowed inside city limits.

As with any critters, honeybees can be a nuisance. Step barefoot on one and you're pretty likely to get stung. For most folks, it's small compensation that the insect dies, its stinger torn from its body once impaled in your foot. But unlike the yellowjackets many folks mistake for honeybees, most honeybees are not innately irritable. Leave them alone and they'll go about their business of collecting nectar and pollen, in the process pollinating about a third of the crops we humans eat.

In addition to managed hives, wild colonies inhabit hollow trees and sometimes walls and roof spaces in residences. If it WERE possible to ban honeybees from a city, residents' fruit trees' and vegetable gardens' production could suffer from lack of pollination. Green beans, squash, strawberries, melons, peas, raspberries and many others need pollination to set fruit, not to mention apples, pears, cherries and peaches. Fortunately, native solitary bees and other insects also provide some pollination - if folks don't go crazy with pesticides and weed and brush control.

In this particular instance, the beekeeper lives on one of the smaller lots in Greendale. He has one beehive close to the back of his house, and three nucs. Nucs are small colonies containing, at most, a fourth or so of the honeybees in a normal colony. This beekeeper has other hives on property at Bear Branch but likes to bring his nucs and splits home to keep a closer eye on them. Splits are divisions of existing hives, and as the name indicates, have perhaps half as many honeybees, at least to start with. A few months ago, this beekeeper had five or six colonies, mostly splits, at his Greendale home, he said. But he moved all but one hive and the three nucs out to Bear Branch two months ago. Across a small alley from his home a neighbor has a fenced yard with an above-ground swimming pool which she told Greendale City Council is visited by honeybees. Many of them are likely from this beekeeper's hives, despite his keeping a water supply in his yard. But because this neighbor has a child she said is allergic to bee stings, her family has not used the pool because of the bees.

Anyone who has open water in their yard knows it will attract insects, including honeybees, wasps, and, unless highly chlorinated or kept moving, mosquitoes. But is one complaint enough reason to ban beekeeping for everyone? According to the beekeeper, no other neighbors have complained. A reasonable response would be beekeeping requirements, such as a high fence or hedge to keep bees' flight paths above passersby's heads, a limit on the number of hives kept, and a requirement that water be provided on the beekeeper's property in warmer months. That would not prevent the honeybees from seeking water elsewhere but would reduce the number doing so, as, like most living creatures, they'll go for what's convenient.

Honeybees provide too many benefits to ban them outright, especially now when they're perhaps more likely to survive in an urban setting away from the neonicotinoids used on farm crops and suspected in colony collapse disorder.

Given, allergies are horrible and can be life threatening. But banning beekeeping is not going to keep wild bees, yellowjackets, wasps and other insects away from this child's environment. Should we ban peanut butter for everyone because some folks are extremely allergic to it? Rather, those with severe peanut allergies must be hyper-vigilant, and – if they're smart – carry an Epipen or other medication to alleviate an allergic reaction.

Not every situation calls for new city, county or federal laws, despite lawmakers' eagerness to control everything within their jurisdiction and to please voters. Yes, some existing laws, such as building setbacks, have safety behind them, the goal being to prevent the spread of a fire. But many others fall into the category of one group telling another group how to live, and never should have been created in the first place.

Greendale Council meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month at the Greendale Utilities, 510 Ridge Ave., Greendale, should any beekeepers want to attend this Wednesday, Sept. 11, in support of this Greendale beekeeper.

Reprinted from the Aug. 29, 2013, Dearborn County Register

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