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Beekeepers Derail Proposed Bee Rules

posted on January 7, 2011

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — Western Indiana beekeepers who swarmed county officials with complaints about proposed limits on their honey-making hobby have forced officials to drop the proposal after warning that it would have virtually eliminated the practice of backyard beekeeping.

Vigo County's beekeepers began buzzing early this week over the ordinance's proposals to limit each person to one hive for every 10 acres of land owned, unless zoned for agricultural purposes, and to limit beekeeping to land parcels greater than 2 acres.

"This ordinance would put (backyard) beekeepers out of business," said Steve Hiatt, who recently began keeping bees and said no beekeepers were included in the county's zoning limit discussions.

After hearing a stream of complaints from Hiatt and other beekeepers, Jeremy Weir, executive director of the Vigo County Area Plan Department, said Wednesday that the proposed provisions were being dropped.

He told The Tribune-Star that officials had been working for about three years to update the county's zoning ordinance, and that "beekeeping was maybe a five-minute discussion throughout the update."

"We were not trying to prevent people from keeping bees, but in reality we were trying to encourage and provide for that in locations other than agricultural land, but we missed the mark," Weir said. "We are all more educated at this point in time."

Although the ordinance would not have affected beehives kept at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, because those hives are on land zones for agriculture, garden manager Candace Minster said she is concerned for backyard beekeepers.

Minster sent a letter to Weir stressing the importance of maintaining healthy bee populations without undue restrictions in light of the mysterious nationwide die-off of bees scientists named colony collapse disorder in 2006.

"Honey bees are a crucial link in our food system, and without them to pollinate our crops, much of our agriculture would suffer greatly or collapse altogether," Minster said in her letter.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report that about 30 percent of the nation's bees have died each year since 2006. That report said that bees are crucial for the production of 130 crops worth more than $15 billion a year.

"Now is not the time to limit the number of backyard and hobby beekeepers. In fact, it's quite the opposite," Minster wrote. "Now we need beekeepers more than ever, to help keep bee populations from collapsing, and that means that every hive counts."

Hiatt said a beekeeper needs a minimum of two hives because one hive may become weak and need bees or larvae from the other to survive. Hiatt has nine hives, part of a hobby he recently started after investing $2,000 to $2,500.

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