A new state law passed last session helps keep small-scale urban beekeepers from being regulated out of existence by their own towns. A provision in the “Local Government Regulatory Reform of 2015” (House Bill 44) prohibits cities and counties from enforcing any ordinance or resolution that prohibits folks from owning or operating five or fewer beehives. The bill passed in the House and Senate roughly along party lines and this particular provision took effect on September 23, 2015.
The new law helps bee hobbyists like Pat Walker of Louisburg, North Carolina. In 2012, Mrs. Walker was facing 20 days in jail for violating the town’s ordinance on beekeeping. According to a city regulation, beehives had to be at least 75 feet from a neighbor’s property line.
Mrs. Walker responded that the ordinance was unfair and unconstitutional and North Carolina Beekeepers Association President Danny Jaynes called the city ordinance “ludicrous,” pointing out that Governor Beverly Perdue had beehives at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh that were just five feet from the property line.
“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”
― Henry David Thoreau
On the heels of the Walker case, the Town of Cary took up a resolution allowing the keeping of beehives on residential lots as a hobby (as opposed to an agricultural use). But the proposed regulations contained restrictions that some saw as objectionable.
The Cary Town Council considered rules to “create a new land use to accommodate the keeping of bees that would allow the practice in certain zoning districts; with a minimum lot size of 30,000 square feet; with a maximum of 1 hive per 10,000 square feet of lot area, not to exceed 8 hives; a 6 foot flyway barrier; and an on-site water supply within 50 feet of the apiary, or bee yard” — only to table the restrictive beekeeping ordinance following the public hearing where beekeepers spoke against the ordinance as being too restrictive.
House Bill 44 does allow cities to continue regulating beehives, but only in certain specific ways. City ordinances must allow up to five hives on any parcel within that city’s planning jurisdiction, although they may require the hives to be placed on the ground or securely anchored and they can require setbacks from the property line or otherwise specify where on the property the hives may be located. A city can also require removal of hives that are not maintained or, if necessary, to protect the public health, safety, or welfare.
Why should you even care about the propagation of bees? Honeybees are vital to human beings and to our planet. One in every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of insect pollination. Domestic honeybees pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the U.S. each year. Unfortunately, however, U.S. honeybee populations are declining at a stunning annual rate of 30% or more, and could face eventual extinction.
According to a Wall Street Daily report, the honeybee plays the most significant role in our ability to produce the basis of our diet: fruits and vegetables. Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.” Joachim Hagopian from the Center for Research on Globalization reports that “in the last half decade alone… 30% of the national bee population has disappeared, and nearly a third of all bee colonies in the United States have perished.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided $3 million to help reseed pastures in the Midwest with plants like alfalfa and clover, which provide food for bees. And last year, Newsweek reported that the agriculture industry resorted to “migrating” honeybees in trucks to various regions in order to pollinate an estimated $40 billion of produce.
Honeybees have thrived for 50 million years. So why has there been a massive colony disappearance that seems to have started around 2006? Some suspect Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is a syndrome defined as a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present.
Possible contributing factors to CCD are the overuse of pesticides, habitat destruction, and harsh winters. A more likely culprit is a specific parasite that has proven particularly damaging to the honeybee population. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have discovered that this microsporidian parasite, called Nosema Ceranae, causes adult bees to die early. And the parasite spreads easily through the air on spores.1
In a 2015 study published in the journal PLOS ONE, University of California San Diego researcher James Nieh and his colleagues found that the parasite can spread to larvae when even a small quantity of its spores make their way into the insect’s’ food. They also discovered that the parasite, a type of fungus, decreases the bees’ life span more than previously thought. The parasite, the researchers say, lives inside honeybees’ gut and is spread via fecal matter or mouth-to-mouth food-sharing. “If spores can stay in the larval gut, germinate and then affect adult longevity later, this can perhaps exacerbate the effects the pathogen already has on honeybees,” says Zachary Huang, an entomologist at Michigan State University.2
You can hear expert Marla Spivak speak about the fascinating story of honeybee decline in her TED Talk “Why Bees Are Disappearing” that she gave on at TEDGlobal 2013. Spivak researches bees’ behavior and biology in an effort to preserve this threatened, but ecologically essential, insect.
Be sure to follow NC State’s Apiculture program on Twitter @.
- Wall Street Daily, “Mankind Will Not Survive Death of Honeybee”
- Newsweek, “Parasite May Help Explain the Decline of Honeybees“