Valdosta Daily Times

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February 13, 2014

LA takes first step toward urban beekeeping

LOS ANGELES — For three years, Rob McFarland has kept 25,000 illegal bees on the roof of his West Los Angeles home — but his hive might not have to fly under the radar much longer.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to begin the process of granting bees like McFarland’s legal status and also supported a motion to relocate wild hives when possible instead of destroying them.

The votes bolstered beekeepers who have tended bees in the shadows, but it also raised concerns that legalizing urban hives would sanction wild hives with Africanized “killer bee” genes.

Critics of the controversial practice fear an ordinance that doesn’t distinguish between keeping tamer European honeybees and Africanized colonies would allow self-styled “ethical bee removal specialists” to expand their efforts unimpeded amid a growing demand for do-it-yourself hives.

A volunteer group that removed wild hives and relocated them recently disbanded after a customer’s neighbor got stung and threatened to sue.

Currently, most hives discovered in the city’s public right of ways or reported by concerned citizens are wiped out because of worries about their aggressive

genetics.

“To just haul them (feral bees) out of the fences and stick them in the backyard, that’s not a good idea,” said Eric Mussen, a bee expert at the University of California, Davis.

Killer bees arrived in Los Angeles County in the mid-1990s and almost completely pushed out the existing wild bee population 15 years ago. They can attack when an intruder gets closer than 100 feet, can chase a person up to a half-mile and will remain aggressive up to an hour after an attack, according to the county.

Those who work with these wild hives insist that the concerns are overblown.

Bees in Los Angeles do have some African genes, they say, but the danger has been diluted from years of interbreeding with local, non-Africanized bees. The resulting hybrid hives can be managed easily with proper training, common sense about hive placement and good communication with neighbors.

There are already around 10 hives per square mile in Los Angeles, so moving them to backyards where beekeepers can monitor them makes sense, said Ruth Askren, who maintains hives for 22 clients and has relocated wild hives to backyards all over the city.

Beekeepers like Askren estimate that 10 percent or fewer of the feral hives they relocate are so aggressive they must be destroyed.

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