Baltimore City at the Forefront of Urban Beekeeping

Honey bee populations nationwide have decreased by a third each year since 2006, a phenomenon the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) attributes in part to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Nearly sixty percent of Maryland’s honey bee population disappeared in winter 2013, causing scientists to question why the state’s honey bees suffer from such a dramatically increased mortality rate. In the same year, Baltimore City Health Department amended its Animal Regulations, making it easier for Baltimore residents to keep honey bees by waiving the permit application fee because honey bees “contribut[e] to public welfare as pollinators sustaining a diverse variety of food crops.”

Keeping bees in Baltimore City requires a remarkably simple registration process. In order to keep honey bees on a residential property in Baltimore City, prospective beekeepers need to (1) register and apply for a permit with the Baltimore City Health Department’s Animal Control  and (2) register with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Hives can be kept in any zone throughout the city as long as beekeepers conform to the space restrictions (no more than two colonies and one nucleus colony on lots up to 2,500 square feet and hives kept either against a solid, five-foot wall or five feet away from any lot line); do not keep hives where they are accessible to the general public; and honey bee movement to and from the hive does not interfere with the the property of others. Honey bees may be kept in yards, on porches and balconies, on roofs, or anywhere urban beekeepers can accommodate them.

In California, agricultural industries that rely heavily on honey bee pollination, such as avocado and almond, have dramatically suffered from the rapid decline of honey bees. It now takes sixty percent of the entire United States honey bee population just to pollinate California almonds, and honeybees are brought in from other states to do the job. Honey bees in Los Angeles are thriving. This is likely because there are fewer pesticides in the city than in agricultural areas and honey bees have access to a greater diversity of plants rather than the monocrops found on large agricultural sites. However, LA’s beekeeping policies lag behind many other cities that are working to increase healthy honey bee populations. On February 12, 2014, after a rigorous campaign to on behalf of urban beekeeping in LA, City Council passed a motion approving a study on the subject. Two-dozen neighborhood councils throughout LA support the proposal. The study will consider legalizing urban beekeeping in areas with single-family homes. On the same date, LA City Council passed a motion requiring the city to look into alternatives to extermination when dealing with “nuisance hives.” The State of Maryland includes one such alternative in its registration process. Private beekeepers can sign up to be put on a registry to receive calls for removing honey bee swarms, removing honey bee nests in walls of buildings, and removing yellow jacket and hornet nests. In the same vote, LA City Council also decided to support a federal bill that proposes a moratorium on the use of particular pesticides until they are shown not to cause “unreasonable adverse effects” on pollinators.

As lawmakers and advocates throughout the country attempt to change policies that may contribute to the decline of honey bee populations, scientists are working hard to identify the causes. With Baltimore at the forefront, urban beekeepers throughout the country continue their stewardship to help support a healthy honey bee population.

Posted on by Kristine Dunkerton

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