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Town Board Offers Support for Bees

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 15:23
Swarming bees can make some people uncomfortable, but that does not mean it is time to apply toxic chemicals.
Durell Godfrey

The East Hampton Town Board passed a resolution last Thursday supporting the enactment of state legislation aimed at protecting honeybees, which are essential pollinators and are in decline.

Deborah Klughers of Springs, a certified master beekeeper who manages more than 100 colonies, told the board that honeybees are at their most defenseless when they swarm, a collective action taken when a colony outgrows its hive and seeks a new home. “Tens of thousands of bees leave their hive and settle on a tree or bush, and they send out scout bees to find a new home,” she said.

Unfortunately, she said, rather than having a beekeeper remove a swarm safely, property owners often call on an exterminator to kill the swarm. Other times a colony will move into an interior space, like the walls of a house. Exterminators who kill bees in that circumstance leave behind a large amount of poison, fermenting honey, and tens of thousands of bees dead or dying and soon to decompose.

The resolution supports the enactment of legislation that would require notification to certified apiarists to attempt to relocate a “nuisance” bee colony or hanging swarm before pesticides are applied or other action taken that would damage or exterminate it. It would also require the permission of a designated professional before bees could be exterminated.

A law in New Jersey protects honeybees from extermination, Ms. Klughers said. “If a swarm or colony ends up in an unwanted place, three beekeepers must be called to assess the situation prior to extermination. Only if it is economically or logistically impossible to safely and humanely remove and re-home a bee swarm or colony is extermination approved.” New York has no such law, she said.

In the last two weeks, she told the board, she had seen two colonies in structures exterminated, “and they could have been safely and humanely removed.” In June, she said, “I witnessed the intentional killing of a free-hanging swarm. It was horrible, and the bees were suffering and dying for days.”

Past efforts to encourage state legislators to enact legislation similar to that in New Jersey were unsuccessful, she said. She started a petition at change.org, which had 4,416 signatures as of Monday afternoon and drew the notice of Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “Currently, a law is being drafted and hopefully will be up for a vote early next session,” she said.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who called himself a novice beekeeper, said he had signed the petition at change.org and was happy to offer the nonbinding resolution. He knew from personal experience, he added, that bees are not aggressive toward people when in a swarming state.

“We need bees to pollinate our food,” Ms. Klughers said after the meeting. An increased use of pesticides — “because we’re so afraid of ticks and mosquitoes we’re killing everything” — is to blame for bees’ decline on the South Fork.

Another scourge is the varroa mite, an invasive species that arrived here around 30 years ago. “These mites did not evolve with the European honeybee but with a different bee, so our bees have no defenses. I’ve always seen this mite causing trouble, and am seeing it getting worse.”

To protect bees, Ms. Klughers recommended planting trees, as bees forage on them. “The biggest thing they like in our community is privet,” she said. “Don’t cut it until it’s done blooming. It will be full of flowers and look a little straggly, but let it bloom. It’s not only helping honeybees but also native bees, bumblebees, and butterflies.”

Last, she said, “Don’t put poison all over your lawn to kill everything but grass. Roundup,” the brand name of a widely used herbicide made by Monsanto, “is killing honeybees, too.”


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