Bees Gone Wild

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.

beekeeper

Unlike the men in white vans, this guy was not armed with poison. Just a cell phone and the equipment pictured below:

DSCN2821

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?

beeyellowflower
Honey Bee

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 …

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17 thoughts on “Bees Gone Wild

  1. i didn’t see this post when it originated, but great post and kudos for the information. There are a number of beekeepers in and around Austin who will remove bees safely and install the hive elsewhere. Thank goodness! The more folks learn about the plight of honeybees, the more likely governmental entities will have to enact measures for protection. I hope.

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    1. Nice to see you here. I enjoy reading your blog. City governments seem to be the most responsive to environmental issues. I think one reason for this is that the issues aren’t theoretical or abstract. Council members are members of the community and so they have a vested interest in making good choices.

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  2. Great idea! We cannot live without the bees because they provide for the pollination of our crops and flowers (even a city slicker like I knows about this:) )

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  3. Thank you for this hopeful post! It’s good to hear about a local government doing something sensible on the environment. Though it’s incredible that so many people would have hives destroyed in during the current crisis.

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    1. The more I look into what local governments do the more hopeful I become. There might not be much goodwill from state and federal governments but municipalities seem to care.

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  4. We have a woman beekeep that does removal and takes them to her many acres of land. I cannot understand why the government drags its heels on regulating pesticide use for the sake of the bees. When it is too late, we all suffer.

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    1. It is getting hard to stay patient. If it weren’t for the beekeepers alerting us to this problem I’d hate to think where we would be now!

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  5. If only more people could be persuaded to keep bees. But it is not that easy.I used to keep bees with the help of a kindly bee- keeping neighbour, Giles. But I was like a teacher who can’ t control her class, scared of her kids and they all know it. I was scared of my bees and they knew it. They used to chase me back to the house whenever I tried to deal with them without Giles. They got in my hair and stung my head.They used to swarm and attack people walking on the footpath. One Sunday they stopped Sunday church service when a swarm was noticed hanging from an angel’ s wing. Everyone knew they were my delinquent bees. I wasn’ t popular. They couldn’t t have come from Giles, his never swarmed or stung people.
    Bees are lovely but they need a confident handler. I had the outfit and the smoke gun but I didn’ t fool my bees or my neighbours.

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    1. Oh dear. Sounds a bit like a nightmare. I used to regularly read a local beekeeper’s blog. It was a fascinating read. I learned that bees are delicate and complex creatures — and they require considerable expertise. Just as a person has to know a lot to run an aquarium or a horse ranch so it is with bees. Many things can go wrong — not only with the health of the animals but also with their relationships with humans.

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  6. Oh, and I forgot to say – I’m pretty sure the exterminators in Texas are plenty busy without having to kill honeybees. There are all sorts of biting, stinging, non-pollinating type threats to be dealt with!

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  7. I’m not sure which downtown hotel you are referring to, but the hotel/conference center at UT either already has, or at least has plans to put honeybee hives on their roof (to accompany the rooftop garden they are implementing). So, another refuge for the bees! It is reassuring to know there is a reasonable response to hives that must be moved other than extermination (whether or not it is less expensive). Thanks for getting that information out and about!

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    1. So much news about the environment is depressing but actually local governments and ordinary people do a great deal of good work. I was really tickled by their bee car. Did not know about the conference center. Cool beans.

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