Nevada beekeepers rally in opposition to apiary ban

by Roger Moellendorf and Brian Bahouth

An Africanized bee - image - Wikicommons

Carson City – A hybrid bee, a mix of European honey bee and more aggressive African bee escaped quarantine in 1957 in Brazil, and since then, “Africanized Honey Bees” (AHBs) or “killer bees” as they are sometimes known have been moving north at roughly 100 to 300 miles a year. Africanized bees have been noted in southern Nevada since the early 1990s and have yet to migrate to the northern part of the state.

The State of Nevada has statutory authority to impose quarantines on areas “infected with, or which may have been exposed to, an infectious, contagious or destructive disease or infested with a parasite, noxious weed, weed seed, propagating part of a plant, or vertebrate or invertebrate pest, or the eggs or larvae thereof,” and since 2001, the state has imposed a quarantine area in southern Nevada due to AHB infestation.

The area includes all of Clark County, all portions of Nye County directly west of Clark County and all portions of Lincoln County south of 37º 50′ north latitude are considered to be infested with Africanized bees.

Image – US Dept of Agriculture

Henderson Republican Senator Keith Pickard is primary sponsor of SB389  and presented the bill to the Senate Natural Resources committee on April 4. In his presentation comments, Pickard mentioned an incident last September in Las Vegas when a colony of Africanized bees living in a tree killed three dogs and seriously injured one human as inspiration for the bill.  SB389 as originally drafted would prohibit the keeping of bees in Nevada within any urban or suburban area with a density of more than two residential units per acre, but after consultation with northern Nevada beekeepers, Senator Pickard proposed a conceptual amendment that would impose the apiary prohibition only within the quarantine zone. 

Jeff Knight is the state entomologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture and oversees the state’s apiary program. Knight told lawmakers the department has protocols when managing Africanized bee colonies, which the state considers a hazardous pest.

“As a department, we consider all feral colonies and swarms within the Africanized bee quarantine zone are AHB or Africanized, and therefore, if they are collected, they need to be at least re-queened or destroyed.”

Abandoned hives within the zone are also considered Africanized. Knight said European Honey Bee (EHB) queens mate with Africanized drones, and thus, Africanized bees spread.

Jacquelyn Sandage is a member of the Great Basin Beekeepers of Nevada and a master beekeeper. She testified in opposition to SB389 and said Africanized bees will inevitably come to northern Nevada, but the best way to control them is through hive management and not quarantine areas.

Hear Jacquelyn Sandage’s testimony to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

“The current system of beekeeping and the effects of Africanized bees can be addressed through structural procedures and processes of hive management, not through quarantining urban areas or banning them all together in Africanized areas,” Sandage said.

Sandage told lawmakers she has been in contact with bee researchers in Florida where Africanized bee populations are high and bee managers do not use quarantine areas.

“Their best line of defense is the beekeepers,” Sandage said who then went on to cite a study from the University of Georgia regarding the management of Africanized bee populations.

“In the fear that accompanies the arrival of Africanized bees, some groups may want to ban beekeeping in their municipalities. Without beekeepers, the number of docile European bees in the area will decrease leaving that area open to infestation by Africanized bees. It is equivalent to quote, ‘abandoning territory to the enemy,’ Sandage said.

Dale Barber is a master beekeeper and member of the Great Basin Beekeepers of Nevada who lives in Carson City and has been keeping bees for 50 years. Barber says finding adequate forage for bees in arid Nevada is a challenge. He relies on urban flora in and around Carson City to feed his bees, so an urban or suburban apiary prohibition in northern Nevada where Africanized bees have yet to inhabit, would unnecessarily damage Barber’s operation.

“We try to get into neighborhoods where there are a lot of fruit trees or black locust trees or Lynden trees. Each one of them will produce about a hundred pounds of honey a year when they bloom, per tree, and there are a lot for those around here, around the Capital.”

For Dale Barber, cities and other subsidiary forms of government are best suited to regulate the keeping of bees.

“The biggest concern we have is local control. They have pretty good ordinance down there in Henderson, equivalent to what we have in Carson City.”

Senator Pickard said he is aware of the push for local control of bee ordinances but added that a lack of uniform regulation within the quarantine zone is part of the problem.

“Unfortunately, we already have a patchwork of rules regarding bees in Clark County, and the quarantine goes beyond the borders of Clark and affects almost all of Lincoln County and beyond the borders of Nye County. The purpose of this bill is to bring uniformity into the quarantine area and protect children and animals there.

“Are there benefits to homeowners keeping bees on their property? Sure,” Pickard said. “But this bill strikes a balance between the homeowner’s individual interests in increasing their garden yields and their neighbor’s rights to use their yards without the threat or fear of bees. Yes, many of their fears may be unfounded, but they are real, and they deserve to use their yards free of fear.”

 During his testimony Dale Barber said he contacted officials in Las Vegas to better understand the number of complaints they get about Africanized bees.

“We were also told by the senator that thousands of bee related complaints in the Henderson area each year. When we contacted the official, the person in the community development department and asked him for an estimation of complaints, he said only a few per year,” Barber said for the record.

Eddie Dichter, principal planner for the City of Henderson, spoke in opposition to the bill. Dichter said the city hired a consult to help write a well informed apiary code, and the apiaries code was adopted on August 21 of last year.

“During this process, staff spent approximately six months researching state, county and city apiary ordinances nationwide, interviewing nationally recognized experts, meeting with stakeholder groups of experts comprised of BLM Spring Preserve, Nevada Department of Agriculture, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, and local beekeepers and meeting with local residents. The city’s apiary regulations are comprehensive and built on the foundation of extensive research through out the state and the country.

“We also reviewed approximately 24 ordinances around the country to ensure that we have the best of the best.”

Dichter said they distributed surveys and that they incorporated a lot of community input in the regulations, along with the input of other stakeholders.

“Some of the items in our code addresses number and size of hives per lot size, distance separation from property lines, compliance with home occupation provisions, landscaping requirements, eliminating grandfathering rights, penalty for violation and proper beekeeping management practices to avoid nuisance impacts on surrounding properties and persons and protecting the public health, safety and welfare. We do oppose this bill as it is too restrictive and conflicts with the city’s goal of allowing apiaries into a variety of neighborhood types,” Dichter said.

Mr. Dichter concluded his comments with a statement of confidence in Henderson’s apiary codes.

“We truly believe, what we have adopted, could work with other jurisdictions, but our regulations may not work for other jurisdictions, so we believe the best practice would be to leave it up to the local jurisdictions, to develop standards that work for their community and get appropriate feedback.”

The City of Las Vegas testified in opposition to SB389 and said they wanted to “associate ourselves with the comments of the City of Henderson.”

No one offered public testimony in support of the bill, and many spoke in opposition. The committee took no action. Below is an audio catalog of testimony in opposition to SB389. If we misspelled your name, please write us at feedback@nevadacapitalnews.org, and we’ll make the correction.

Linda Groves, Great Basin Beekeepers of Nevada

Dale Barber, Great Basin Beekeepers of Nevada

Eddie Dichter, principal planner for the City of Henderson, NV

Debbie Gilmore, owner of Hall’s Honey in Yerington, NV

John Hammel

Al Simlinger, owner Al Bees Sierra Nevada Honey Co.

David Sharpless, Henderson beekeeper

Laura McSwain

Dan Philips

Kelly Crompton, City of Las Vegas