Updated: broken link repaired
They Walk Among Us
Remember the scary men in white vans problem from a couple of weeks ago? Yesterday, I saw another guy dressed vaguely like a space walker entering the wild bamboo forest near the train tracks.
Unlike the men in white vans, this guy was not armed with poison. Just a cell phone and the equipment pictured below:
I spotted a bee keeper! They walk among us.
When wild bees set up a colony people sometimes freak out. I can only suppose their minds are infected with the killer bee meme or possibly that they are deathly allergic. So people with rogue bees often call an exterminator and spend a lot of money to kill the hive and have it removed. About 10,000 beehives are destroyed each year in Texas even though everyone knows honey bees are in trouble.
Are Bees Officially Endangered?
Have bees been declared officially endangered? Who decides?
There is an organization called The International Union for Conservation of Nature that publishes a Red List. It describes the conservation status of many organisms though apparently not so much for arthropods even though arthropods are the most abundant form of animal life on the planet and very much at risk. I suppose excluding insects and other arthropods is a marketing decision.
Locally, the plight of some insects has been recognized. The US Fish and Wildlife Service publish a list of endangered species which does include arthropods. The list is in no way complete. The process of getting a species listed is complex. States can also make a ruling on the conservation status of species. The Texas Parks and Wildlife agency has a nice database here. I like it because a person can find out about endangered species even at the county level. The agency’s Texas Natural Diversity Database can be found here.
But to answer the question about domesticated honey bees, it would seem that even though honey bees are threatened they are not officially recognized as being in danger. At least, I was not able to see them included on any of these lists. If someone has other information I hope they will share it.
Luckily, The Xerces Society, a non profit NGO has made vanishing insects a cause. Thanks to their efforts and beekeeper lawsuits against the EPA everyone is now aware that bees are in trouble.
What Has the City of Austin Done in Response?
When news of bee colony collapses started to make the news in 2011, the city reviewed its policy on wild and abandoned bees. The ordinance at the time said:
Without notice and a hearing, the health authority may destroy:
(A) a colony not residing in a hive;
(B) a swarm of bees; or
(C) a colony residing in an abandoned standard or man-made hive.
Yipes. But the City Council listened to stakeholders and agreed to change the wording to:
The health authority will order relocation of bees if the relocation of the bees can be done without threatening human or animal health or interfering with the normal use and enjoyment of public or private property.
Bees can be removed instead of exterminated. The City of Austin’s website offers some contact information and educational links to Texas A&M University to help people learn more about honey bees. btw: Here’s a link to the guy in the yellow car.
If you have a wild hive problem and know someone who is a bee keeper they will likely be happy to help or at least direct you to someone who can relocate the hive free of charge.
When a bee keeper removes a hive you know he or she cares about the bees and will use gentle methods that won’t leave lasting poisons. A bee keeper once rescued a hive that was about 40 years old here in east Austin near where I live. It was 7 feet high! It took him several hours to complete the job.
Once the bees are removed, the bee rescuer finds a safe place to relocate the wild bees. Sometimes the bee keeper will choose to house the rescued bees on his or her own land to replace dying colonies. Sometimes the colony will be offered to others to foster. One luxury hotel in down town Austin hosts rescued bees on their rooftop. They use the honey in their restaurant and bar.
And if doing the right thing isn’t enough of an intrinsic reward, it is also much cheaper to hire a bee rescuer than to hire an exterminator.
I love a solution where everyone wins. Well everyone but the exterminators I suppose …