• Second Opinion Magazine

Honeybees: What You Need to Know

by Amber Erickson Gabbey

Even though you can’t legally have bees in Eau Claire proper, Drew Kaiser is working to change that. Looking to cities like Madison as an inspiration, the Eau Claire chapter of Save the Bees, spearheaded by Kaiser, is hoping to pass ordinances to legitimize urban beekeeping and small family apiaries. While there isn’t a current ordinance banning honeybees in Eau Claire, it is considered illegal based on the understanding of other ordinances.

Culturally, we’re beginning to understand just how much honeybees matter and the dire situation of the species. Honeybees, often considered a nuisance by worried neighbors, are vital to the health and well-being of our planet and ultimately, us. Colony collapse disorder is a new but serious threat to honeybees, affecting nearly 30 percent of their numbers every year. Honeybees are necessary to pollinate fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and without pollination, the food supply is in danger. A country without an adequate food supply is in trouble. This isn’t just about honeybees, says Kaiser, this is about the broader view of life.

We’re not talking large-scale production here, says Kaiser. We’re talking about small-scale family productions that help the honeybee population survive. The bees help pollinate area plants and provide the family with fresh, local honey. Who doesn’t like getting a jar of honey from their neighbors?

For opponents of urban beekeeping, the local honey isn’t enough. They have other reasons for resisting the motion. “The biggest barrier is getting over the misperception that bees are yellow jackets are wasps are hornets,” says Kaiser. Many people don’t know the difference between bee species and imagine they are all aggressive and deadly. Yes, there is always a risk of stings and allergic reactions, but beekeeping doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of strings or general bee nuisance. Normally very docile creatures, honeybees kill themselves in the process of stinging.

The other public perception is that honeybees will frequent neighborhood yards. Kaiser said common urban beekeeping practice is to install flyaway barriers. Since honeybees fly in a straight line, these barriers push the honeybees higher into the air, meaning there is no noticeable increase in honeybee activity in the vicinity. Kaiser believes these misconceptions can be alleviated with direct and explicit education on the life and behaviors of honeybees.

According to Kaiser, there are signs of environmental distress everywhere you look. Honeybees are part of the solution to this environmental design. We need them; they  need us. The USDA estimates every 1 of 3 mouthfuls of food is attributed to honeybee pollination. That is a big deal to this nation’s food system, and without honeybees we’ve got a major problem. “Pollination is an indicator of the health of the environment,” says Kaiser.

The current state of the ordinance in Eau Claire includes education, signature collecting, and talking with public officials. Kaiser and team are now working with the newly formed Sustainability Commission for the city of Eau Claire and hope to produce something actionable to give to the council in the coming months.

Outside of signing the petition and getting involved, there are a couple things you can do to help the honeybees. First, minimize or eliminate your use of chemicals. If you farm, consider transitioning to more organic and environmentally friendly practices. Then, plant flowers that attract honeybees. Even global issues like this start locally.

Amber Erickson Gabbey, MA, RYT, is a freelance health writer and yoga teacher. She enjoys the simple life in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado. Follow her healthy living blog at www.mindfullywritten.com/blog.

SOURCE: Drew Kaiser, kaiser.drew@gmail.com, 715-834-4747.

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