If Pat Powers will squawk about backyard chickens as a bird flu risk, he’ll surely buzz about the dangers of backyard bees. At its Monday, May 4 meeting, the Rapid City Council will consider amending ordinance to allow small-scale beekeeping in residential areas.
- Beekeepers could only place hives at single-family residences, not apartments.
- Hives must be at least fifteen feet away from neighbors’ homes.
- Max per lot is four hives, plus two temporary starter hives.
- However, if a lot is big enough that the owner can place the hives at least 200 feet from every property line, the owner can exceed the four-hive limit.
- The beekeeper must maintain an adequate water supply so the bees don’t go drinking elsewhere.
The city provides a number of arguments in favor of urban beekeeping in the Whereas clauses to Ordinance 6010:
WHEREAS, the value of honey bees as pollinators of South Dakota’s agricultural crops as well as its home orchards and gardens is vitally important; and
WHEREAS, South Dakota is among the leading states in honey production and its honey is valued because of its light color and mild flavor; and
WHEREAS, in most cases a beekeeper can utilize management techniques to successfully control problems in his bees related to diseases, parasites, predators and other environmental problems; and
WHEREAS, domestic strains of honey bees have been selectively bred for desirable traits, including honey production, reduced swarming, pollination attributes, and other characteristics which are desirable to foster and maintain; and
WHEREAS, domestic strains of honey bees can be maintained within populated areas in reasonable densities to fill an ecological niche and exclude unwanted and undesirable strains of bees without causing a nuisance if the honey bees are properly located and carefully managed and maintained; and
WHEREAS, nearly 70 percent of the registered beekeepers in South Dakota are hobby beekeepers and many hobby beekeepers maintain hives within City limits… [Ordinance 6010, as first read by Rapid City Council, 2015.04.15].
Bee promoter Noah Wilson-Rich says that in the midst of the colony collapse disorder that has wiped out a third of the U.S. bee population each winter, bees appear to flourish more in urban settings than in rural settings. However, British melittologist (yup, there is a word for “bee scientist”) Francis Ratnieks warns that urban bees will starve without urban flowers:
“The honey bee is just one of many insect species which feed on nectar and pollen. Having a high density of honey bee hives is not only bad for honey bees, but may also affect bumblebees and other species feeding on the same flowers.”
The scientists said that as the number of urban hives increases, there needs to be sufficient food and there may not be enough flowers in the parks situated in built-up areas….
Co-author Dr Karin Alton said: “Our calculations indicate that each new hive placed in London would need the equivalent of one hectare of borage, a plant that attracts mainly honey bees, or over eight hectares of lavender, a plant that attracts mainly bumblebees but some honey bees” [Sarah Griffiths, “How the Trendy Hobby of Keeping Bees in Cities Could Actually Be BAD for Them: City Hives Run the Risk of Insect Starvation,” Daily Mail, 2013.08.14].
And here you go, Pat: all those amateurs exercising their liberty for honey self-sufficiency could spread disease… among insects:
[Ratnieks and Alton] believe the high colony density in London and an influx of inexperienced beekeepers also runs the risk of spreading certain honey bee diseases, especially American foulbrood, a highly contagious bacterial infection of honey bee larvae.
The infection is rare in Britain, but a high density of hives managed by novice beekeepers creates a situation in which it could easily spread if it got started and the only ‘cure’ is to burn hives, they warned [Griffiths, 2013.08.14].
As for the risk to humans, I find various statistics pointing out that insect stings kill fifty-some Americans each year (more than are usually killed by sharks and terrorists but fewer than are killed in farming accidents), but the articles I see citing that data all appear to lump bees in with wasps and hornets.
Rapid City appears to be moving in the right direction allowing folks to keep bees, promote pollination, and make some home-grown honey. But if Rapid City will allow residents to keep bees that do indeed harm and occasionally kill humans, why won’t they allow residents to keep chickens?