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Jun 18, 2019 10:12 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Beekeepers Ask For Law To Make It Illegal To Kill Honeybees

Deb Klughers of Bonac Bees created a petition to mimic a New Jersey law which makes it illegal to exterminate bee colonies. COURTESY BONAC BEES
Jun 18, 2019 2:57 PM

A property owner in Amagansett reported on a recent Friday that a large swarm of honeybees was hanging from a tree branch on the property.

But when Deb Klughers of East Hampton, a certified master beekeeper who runs Bonac Bees, arrived, what she found, instead, was about 30,000 dying and struggling honeybees on the ground.

“It took days for those bees to die. They were not causing any harm to anyone,” Ms. Klughers said.

Whether they were poisoned—for instance, by an exterminator, or a homeowner with a can of insecticide—or died of natural causes is still a mystery to Ms. Klughers, who said the property owner denied having had them destroyed.

“This event put me over the edge,” she said, explaining her decision to circulate a petition that would make it illegal in New York State to kill honeybees, except under certain circumstances.

“The reason for my petition is because it’s totally unacceptable for a swarm of bees to be poisoned when a person just has to wait another 10 minutes for a beekeeper to arrive,” she said.

Honeybees’ role in human survival is overlooked and undervalued, Ms. Klughers said. Through their role as pollinators, they are critical to growing many fruits and vegetables, and they provide food for wildlife.

New York State is home to more than 60,000 honeybee colonies, which Ms. Klughers said is not enough to satisfy the state’s farming needs. Bee colonies are actually shipped into New York to fulfill pollination requirements.

It is legal in New York State to kill honeybees, however. Pest control companies and the general public can exterminate honeybee colonies or hanging swarms at any time, for any reason.

Ms. Klughers said that honeybee colonies, which can easily consist of 60,000 bees, are often exterminated after they nest at homes or on branches or fences on private properties.

Since during the swarm stage bees are gentle, a beekeeper usually can scoop the swarm into a bucket, or a cooler, and transport the bees to a more suitable hive. An experienced beekeeper can remove all of the components of the colony­—including the bees, their brood, honey, beeswax and pollen—and “bee-proof” a cavity to prevent future colonies from moving in there.

A honeybee swarm is simply the birth of a new colony, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension. Both Julie Cummings, a beekeeper based in Water Mill, and Ms. Klughers said honeybees tend to be at their most docile phase of life while in a swarm, as they have no home or young to defend.

The bees usually hang on a bush or tree branch while scout bees look for a dry, dark cavity to move into. When the bees agree on a location, the swarm will take flight and move in, with the overall process taking anywhere from minutes to days, depending on weather and the availability of a suitable new home.

The petition is circulating on social media advocates for a New York law that would mimic a law already enacted in neighboring New Jersey.

That law states that honeybee colonies should be relocated instead of exterminated. Residents and exterminators would have to attempt to contact no fewer than three beekeepers identified by the New Jersey Beekeepers Association to obtain assistance in relocating nuisance honeybee colonies before making any attempt to destroy the bees.

Ms. Cummings said on Monday that she agreed with Ms. Klughers’s petition. In fact, on Memorial Day, one of her swarms landed on a neighbor’s tree, and she and her beekeeper friends were able to scrape the colony, somewhere around 30,000 bees, into a Styrofoam cooler. The bees were then placed into a larger hive set up in her backyard.

To stop the swarms from landing on people’s properties, Ms. Klughers created bait boxes, made out of 10-gallon coolers, for people to put into their yards so the bees can nest in those boxes.

“You can catch them before they end up in someone’s wall,” she explained.

“The bees ball around the queen,” she explained of the swarm, adding that the queen’s “daughters” and worker bees follow the queen constantly. “They hook their legs together,” she explained of how they form into a giant ball.

Ms. Cummings said that recently people have become more aware of the good that bees do. “I think they still get a bad reputation. Of course, they sting,” she said, adding that honeybees aren’t aggressive, and they will sting only if provoked.

“As intimidating as they look, they are not interested in sticking around. Seeing swarms are like seeing baby deer in a field. Leave them alone—they are on their way to somewhere else,” she explained.

By 1947, America had almost 6 million managed honeybee colonies, compared to an estimated 2.67 million managed honeybee colonies today. Over the past decade, American honeybee colonies have been dying at an alarming average rate of about 30 percent per year, according to the change.org petition.

Left behind after a spray of chemicals to kill the bees are dead and dying bees, poisoned brood, poisoned honey, poisoned pollen and poisoned beeswax. This can attract other honeybees or animals such as raccoons, squirrels and insects, and harm them as well. The damaged colony festers and can mold and rot, and cause harm to humans and the structure it was in.

Honeybees sometimes suffer from accidental poisoning, Ms. Klughers said, adding that this spring, she saw three colonies poisoned by accidental exposure, which could happen after a neighbor sprays to kill moths or ticks. If there happen to be foraging honeybees on a nearby apple tree, those bees will become contaminated and bring the poison back to the colony—and the whole colony is fatally exposed.

In addition to human causes, bees also suffer from diseases such as deformed wing virus and invasive species such as the varroa mite, which feeds on the bees. Bees can also suffer from poor nutrition, not directly because of chemicals like Roundup, but because the chemicals kill the weeds that are their food sources.

“Those beautiful manicured lawns with not one clover or dandelion are not helpful,” Ms. Klughers said.

Climate change is also a huge factor in demising the bee populations: Too much rain washes away nectar, and when it is too hot, all production stops and the queen bee stops laying eggs.

Although laws are changing regarding agricultural chemicals, Ms. Klughers stressed that her petition isn’t aimed at restricting mosquito repellents, or stopping the use of agricultural chemicals. The petition is for the sole purpose of making it illegal for exterminators to deliberately kill bees without speaking with a beekeeper beforehand.

“With large numbers of bees dying each year, we should be enacting laws like this everywhere we can,” Ms. Klughers said, adding that she is trying to get State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and other lawmakers involved. “I don’t see why lawmakers would not approve this law,” Ms. Klughers said.

Currently, the petition at www.change.org has about 1,800 signatures. For more information, or to sign the petition, visit http://chng.it/2KrnxHWj2c.

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Please sign the petition @ change.org. Great article Ms Vespe. #savethebees
By KrazyHorses (1), Riverview on Jun 19, 19 7:58 PM
When I moved into my neighborhood nobody used pesticides. Then wealthier city people started buying houses and the first thing they do is call in the pesticide companies to spray their property because
OMG Lyme Disease!
OMG! West Nike virus!
OMG ants!
OMG my lawn, my perfectly green lawn that I fertilize 3 times from spring to fall, even though I'm not supposed to!
OMG, babesiosis, Erlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, tularemia, Hanta virus!

People who live ...more
By btdt (449), water mill on Jun 20, 19 9:26 PM
2 members liked this comment
Great post. Same infuriating experience. Plus we have well water.
By June Bug (2680), SOUTHAMPTON on Jun 20, 19 9:56 PM