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Bill restricting placement of beehives fails in committee

BISMARCK -- Beekeepers swarmed to the Capitol on Thursday to testify against a bill that would have put a 2-mile no-hive zone around North Dakota homes, day care centers and schools, a restriction industry leaders say would have ended beekeeping ...

BISMARCK - Beekeepers swarmed to the Capitol on Thursday to testify against a bill that would have put a 2-mile no-hive zone around North Dakota homes, day care centers and schools, a restriction industry leaders say would have ended beekeeping in the state.

 

In the end, House Bill 1236 failed to fly with the House Agriculture Committee, and was tagged with a do-not-pass recommendation for when it goes to a full vote of the House.

 

Beekeepers and North Dakota Extension Service experts said the bill was the equivalent of using a hammer to swat, well, a bee.

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Even primary sponsor Rep. Chuck Damschen isn’t wedded to the 2-mile setback of hives from homes, apartments, residential facilities, day cares and schools. A half-mile setback might be fine, too, he said.

 

But state law needs some sting to get bad beekeepers in line, he said.

 

"You just can’t have unlimited amount of bees in some area," Damchen said.

 

He said the issue came to a head last August in south-central Cavalier and northern Walsh counties. Bee populations had exploded.

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Bees love the canola in the northeast part of the state and canola yields improve with bees, he said. But after last year’s crop was harvested, starving bees headed to farmsteads seeking food and water.

 

"It’s become enough of a problem that farmers can’t work in their yard and oil companies won’t deliver," Damschen said.

 

Beehives were found unregistered, had no contact information for the owners and were placed without permission, he said.

 

"My intent is certainly not to harm the bee industry … but I don’t want to make it so miserable that farmers can’t do their work. There has to be a balance. And this is a vehicle to get to that point," Damschen said.

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Will Nissen, president of the North Dakota Beekeepers Association, said if the bill’s restrictions somehow become law, it would be devastating.

 

"It wouldn’t hurt beekeeping. It would end beekeeping in North Dakota," the Minot man said.

 

Bonnie Woodworth, director-at-large for the state beekeepers group, was at Thursday’s hearing.

 

A 2-mile hive setback "would destroy the industry," the Halliday woman said. "Ninety percent of the locations would be impossible to maintain. In western north Dakota, we have people living in campers on section lines."

 

With 12,000 hive locations and two dozen complaints a year, she said communications between beekeepers and landowners overall are excellent.

 

"Most complaints are resolved," she said.

 

Bees are generally kept in North Dakota from May to October.

 

In that short window, they keep crop production humming with pollination and put the state at No. 1 in the nation in honey production.

 

In 2013, North Dakota honeybees produced 33,120,000 pounds of honey worth nearly $67.6 million. That’s more than twice what is produced in Montana and South Dakota, the National Honey Board reports.

 

Jan Knodel, an entomologist with the Extension Service, said bees range 2 to 3 miles when foraging. But domestic honeybees are relatively docile, she said.

 

Knodel said research shows that canola and sunflowers have greater yields, thanks to bees.

 

"There is an increase in yield of the canola between 13 and 46 percent, depending on the study you look at," she said.

 

She said people may be confusing aggressive hornets or yellow jacket wasps for honeybees.

 

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, said Senate Bill 2025, a rewrite of regulations for the bee industry, is also in hearings.

 

Among the hallmarks of SB 2025 is it requires hives to be registered with the state Agriculture Department. They must also be clearly marked with an identification number and the contact information for the beekeeper. Johnson said it’s possible that bill could see some sort of hive setbacks tacked on in an amendment.

 

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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