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San Diego County Considers Easing Beekeeping Restrictions

Beekeepers say loosening restrictions would help boost declining bee population

Above: Bee populations in San Diego County and across the nation have declined sharply since 2006. Nearly a third of all colonies in the country died off last year.

Aired 10/9/13 on KPBS News.

San Diego County supervisors are set to consider on Wednesday easing beekeeping restrictions in the backcountry as part of an effort to promote the industry and preserve the declining honey bee population.

— San Diego County supervisors are set to consider on Wednesday easing beekeeping restrictions in the backcountry as part of an effort to promote the industry and preserve the declining honey bee population.

European honey bees play a vital role in San Diego County’s $5.1 billion agriculture industry; they pollinate a third of the region’s crops, including avocados, apples and nuts.

The current county ordinance requires beekeepers to maintain their colonies 600 feet from neighboring dwellings and 100 feet from public roads, an unreasonable distance according to some beekeepers.

"The only place to put them, many times, at a farmer's request, is to put them closer than the 600-foot limit," said David Winter, a beekeeper with Chaparral Honey Company in Valley Center, which operates thousands of bee colonies for pollination and honey.

Winter said using careful discretion for adjacent landowners should replace any distance restrictions.

"Normally the bees are no problem closer than the 600-foot limit," Winter said. "We put them close to roads that are public roads, often just because that’s the only place to put them to pollinate, say, an avocado grove or other crops that need bees."

An easement could also help preserve dwindling honey bee populations by allowing bee hobbyists to operate colonies within just a few acres of land.

"House sites that have less than 5 acres of land associated with it — you couldn’t get 600 feet away from a road or a house — and 5 acres of land is plenty of room to keep less than 10 colonies of bees," Winter said.

Beekeepers usually contain their colonies in boxes that provide access for bees to fly in and out.

"Bees will fly a mile or more every direction to look for flowers for nectar or pollen, but they come back and forth into those boxes," Winter said.

Bee populations in San Diego County and across the nation have declined sharply since 2006. Nearly a third of all colonies in the country died off last year.

Winter blames parasites and diseases that have come into the country through international trade.

"It’s a much harder industry than it used to be, just because we can’t fight all of the diseases that cropped up in the last 10 years," Winter said.

County supervisors are scheduled to hear the issue at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the County Administration Center in downtown San Diego.

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