County & Cities Lack Coordinated Response To Threat Of Bee Extinction

(July 9)  SAN BERNARDINO — With  a host of ecological factors representing what some doomsayers insist is an apocalyptic threat to the worldwide bee population, efforts to limit that devastation or make incremental progress in increasing the number of bees locally have been compromised by bureaucratic regulations enforced by many of San Bernardino County’s cities.
As recently as three weeks ago, on June 20, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum to the heads of 14 executive departments and agencies in which he called for formulating a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators.
Obama’s request came four years after the deaths of bees began accelerating worldwide.
According to scientists, America’s traditional honeybees, known by the nomenclature apis mellifera, have been decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), brought on by the combination of drought, the proliferation pesticides and fungicides, disease bearing parasites and a decline in the quality of nutrition available to bees. It is estimated that 11 million beehives, worth $2.2 billion, have disappeared in North America alone over the past seven years.
Moreover, the importation of Africanized honey bees into America and their takeover of the more docile apis mellifera hives has complicated the situation.
Bees are a critical element of the natural ecosystem, pollinating plants as they flit from one nectar-bearing plant to another. The drop in their numbers represents a threat not just to the $30 billion in U.S. crops annually depending upon their pollinating activity but to the entire food chain and plant, animal and human life as we know it.
A prime suspect in Colony Collapse Disorder is a chemical family called neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids, developed by Shell in the 1980s and Bayer in the 1990s, are neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine and the first new class of insecticides to be developed in the last 50 years. They were considered very promising because they were far less toxic to mammals than to insects. The neonicotinoid imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world. After two decades of neonicotinoid use, however, it has been learned that neonicotinoids, rather than diffusing chemically, break down into persistently toxic byproducts. They have been linked to the escalation of bee deaths after 2007. In Europe, where bee deaths have plummeted as sharply as in America, nicotinoid use was banned for two years beginning in April 2013.
Many scientists believe that nenicotinoids alone are not responsible for the worldwide bee population decline.
An analysis of pollen collected from hives by American researchers turned up a toxic mix of chemicals, including unadulterated pesticides, herbicides and fungicides or their derivatives as well as chemicals used for fertilizing purposes. When that infested pollen was fed to healthy bees, those bees lost their natural resistance to being infected by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. Nosema ceranae several years ago was identified as having a causal effect with regard to Colony Collapse Disorder.
In addition, the uptick in the use of fungicides in recent years is a suspected culprit in the bee die off. While previously it was assumed fungicides represented no direct threat to bees given that they were designed to inhibit or kill fungus, evidence is growing that fungicides applied to apple trees and other fruits are deadly to bee colonies. Bees consuming pollen contaminated with fungicides are three times as likely to be infected by parasites, according to researchers.
With the bee population under such severe challenge, bee keepers, known as apiarists, have stepped up their efforts, individually and collectively, to establish apiaries, also known as  bee yards, places where beehives of honey bees are kept.  This effort has been met with encouragement by farmers, who naturally want to encourage the proliferation of bees to assure the pollination of their crops. Indeed, farmers occasionally provide apiarists with free sites to operate their apiaries and will even occasionally pay apiarists to place hives near their crops.
San Bernardino County, the largest county in the United States outside of Alaska, was once an agricultural powerhouse, boasting concentrated vegetable and fruit growing operations, in particular citrus orchards and the Cucamonga wine region, which was a lesser rival to those in Napa and Sonoma. Later, the Chino Agricultural Preserve was formed in conformance with the Williamson Act which gave tax protection to milk producers who committed to utilizing their land for exclusive agricultural use. In its heyday, the Chino Valley hosted over 300 dairies. Following the urbanization of the 1960s, and the sharply accelerated urbanization of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, agriculture in San Bernardino County has declined. Over 90 percent of the citrus groves in the county have been supplanted with subdivisions. Few vineyards remain in the county. Today there are fewer than 70 dairies in the Chino Valley.
Accompanying San Bernardino County’s urbanization has been a growing intolerance of the trappings of agriculture. Reflecting the attitude of San Bernardino County’s current population, which is virtually unmindful of the critical threat of Colony Collapse Disorder, municipal officials and the regulations they enforce have proven inimical if not downright hostile to apiarists, their apiaries and the bees themselves. While these regulations have relatively benign intent in that they are aimed at making the environs more livable for the human population, they have inhibited, hamstrung and handcuffed the handful of humans who, either motivated by their consciousness of the ecological threat of Colony Collapse Disorder or by professional economic interest, have sought to establish beekeeping operations.
The city of San Bernardino, for example, restricts beekeepers to just two hives. This makes it virtually impossible for a dedicated apiarist to set up shop in the city of San Bernardino.
Redlands makes no restriction on the number of hives an apiarist can have but requires that the hives be removed from the city limits during the late spring and early and midsummer months when the bees are most prone to swarming. Hive relocation can be a complicating factor, both financially and logistically, for keepers with large numbers of hives. Redlands’ regulation  discourage large scale apiaries from locating there.
Last year, the city of Chino Hills put the kibosh on a couple who had aspirations of utilizing a remote piece of property in Soquel Canyon as an apiary.
Monty and Farrah Sommer, Chino residents, had hoped to facilitate the establishment of multiple bee colonies on 10 acres of unpopulated ranchland in Soquel Canyon they had arranged to lease from a property owner who was no longer utilizing it for agricultural purposes. The property in question fit within the city’s requirement that it be at least 500 feet from its nearest residential neighbor.
The Sommers researched the city code thoroughly and in March 2013 applied for a home operation license for a concern that would allow for the establishment of hives composed of bees rescued from locations from which they had been removed, the production, harvesting and sale of honey, and the creation of a beekeeping club that would be dedicated to educating the community about bees.
For its standard fee, the city gave the Sommers a license to sell honey from their home. The city initially gave indication the beekeeping operation would be approved pursuant to an inspection of the property upon which it was to be located.
After five months delay, in August 2013, the city informed the Sommers that they would need to pay a $5,000 review fee for their proposed operation.
The $5,000 charge, the city said, was a cost recovery fee, based upon a calculus of $170 per hour for the staff time the city claimed would be needed to carry out the inspection. The city contended it would require somewhere in the neighborhood of 29 to 30 staff hours to carry out the inspection and file the requisite paperwork.
The Sommers objected and the city agreed to accept a deposit of $3,450 toward 20 hours worth of inspection to get the process started, with the proviso that the Sommers pay $170 per hour for any inspection time beyond the 20 hours. The Sommers were unwilling to make that deposit and the city countered with an offer to accept a deposit for city staff time of ten hours at $177 per hour, i.e., $1,770 toward the review cost.
Ultimately, the Sommers elected to forego their apiary plans and in November they removed from the Soquel Canyon property the last of the several hives of bees that they had rescued from extinction.
In Apple Valley, a group of residents has petitioned the town council there to change the town’s code to allow beehives on half-acre properties.
At present the town’s code allows apiaries to exist on property zoned R-A (agriculture), R-LD (low density) and R-VLD (very low density). All of those zones entail lots of at least 2.5 acres. While the town code allows up to one hive per 13,500 square feet, those hives must be located within the 2.5 acre lots.
The town council turned down even considering the request to allow owners of half acre properties – 21,800 square feet – to maintain a single hive.
John Gardner, San Bernardino County’s agricultural commissioner, told the Sentinel the urbanization of the county over the last fifty years has rendered large portions of it off limits to bee colonies.
“Where we have open areas, the beekeepers can be unhindered because they are less restricted than what you typically see in the cities.”
Most city restrictions are aimed at limiting the human population from exposure to the bees, which can sting when provoked, Gardner said. Some people have extreme allergies to bee stings, which in some of those cases can be fatal.
“Usually, cities have certain criteria with regard to keeping bees,” Gardner said. “They generally have to be at a required distance from occupied structures. You must have a certain amount of water available. The codes are meant to prevent them from causing problems.”
Gardner noted that by contrast there are some remote areas in the unincorporated areas of the county that are “virtually without restrictions” as far as the keeping of bees goes.
Asked if there was a hierarchy of restrictivity among cities, Gardner said, “Restrictivenes is in the eye of the beholder. In some cities there are certain months where you can’t keep bees. Some of those cities, such as Redlands, have no limit on the number of hives you can have during the fall, winter and early spring. There are other cities that are what you might perhaps call more liberal and you can keep bees there all year long. But some of those restrict the number of hives you can have. It depends on which way you measure the restrictions. Certain cities are more liberal or more restrictive on some ends.”
Gardner said that in most of the county’s cities, bee restriction “enforcement is not a priority. If you have a really good beekeeper who makes sure his bees have a constant and good water source, they won’t be a problem. Often in the summer, when bees don’t have access to water, they will swarm and go out to find it. They will seek out water at the closest place they can find. You will see a whole lawn covered with them. When people encounter a large number of them like that, they are afraid.”
Gardner said a significant number of hives in San Bernardino County have become Africanized, that is, are headed by a queen bee that traces its lineage back to Africa, where the bees are far more aggressive towards humans in terms of stinging and are less productive in terms of honey output than the bees that originated in Europe and which historically populated America.
With some degree of difficulty, apiarists can re-queen Africanized hives with what are temporarily, at least, positive results.
“A large percentage of the bees in our county now have Africanized traits,” Gardner said. “They are more aggressive than the European bees. You can extract the queen from the colony and replace her with one of the European variety and box the hive back up. That works for a while. Eventually, though, when the colony grows and another queen is produced it will lead a swarm out to create another colony and, because of the Africanized bees’ dominant traits, that queen will mate and pick up the aggressive tendencies.”
Given the importance of bees’ role in the ecosystem and the confluence of threats they face, Gardner said he thinks some sort of forum with regard to a consistent policy being formulated throughout the county might be a good idea.
“We’d be willing to enter into a discussion with the cities about what those standards should be,” Gardner said of the county agriculture department. “I’d be glad to participate in something like that.”

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