Bee thieves become brazen, stealing hives by the truckload
High prices for bee rental and a short supply of bee hives has resulted in brazen bee thefts.
Thieves have been pulling into an orchard and loading bee boxes onto pallets, which were then moved to trucks with a forklift.
This happened on two separate nights on farms in Colusa County in January. A total of 280 hives went missing.
Not long after that, another 280 hives were stolen in the Yuba/Sutter area, said Jay Freeman, a Butte County Sheriff Office detective who has become the main contact for bee thefts.
“They knew what they were doing,” Freeman said.
Beekeeper Pat Heitkem provides hives for Sacramento Valley farmers. After his business was hit by thieves last year, he and other bee handlers hired a private security company. Nightly patrol will now take place in a buzzing bee staging area.
The nature of the bee business is part of the reason #beekeepers are vulnerable to theft. Often, the colonies are placed off the beaten track and down seldom-traveled roads.
WHY ARE BEES BEING STOLEN?
The supply of bees is tight. Over the past dozen years, bee population have taken a hit, mostly due to a combination of disease and parasite infestation.
Beekeeper Steve Park is based in Palo Cedro, which is about 70 miles east of Redding.
It’s a tough business. In the past, he might lose 5 percent of his hives over the winter, he said. Now he’ll lose 10-30 percent. Most beekeepers in the United States lose even higher percentages of bees each year.
The drought has made things worse. Those first few years, farmers were still taking a chance and planting crops, Park said. This meant a greater variety of blooms for bee forage.
By year four of the drought, growers had learned the hard way that rain would not arrive.
He predicted that this year beekeepers will continue to struggle to have quality bees for rent.
“In the old days,” almond farmers rented one box of bees per acre. Now, almond farmers rent two boxes, Park said.
Also, there has been a huge jump in almond acreage in California, from 250,000 acres in the 1970s to 850,000 today, the beekeeper said.
Not only are more bees needed for almonds, but there is less food for the bees the rest of the year.
Almonds bloom in February. Bees need food year-round.
All of these factors add up to more expensive bee rental.
With all the factors, the cost to rent bees during almond bloom continues to rise.
Here are the bee rental prices quoted to the Enterprise-Record over the past dozen years:
2004 — $40-$50 per hive
$2005— $100 per hive
2008 — $125-$150 per hive
2015 — $160-$185 per hive
2016 — $180-$190 per hive
After almond bloom, bee rental costs drop dramatically. Bees for cherries, for example, might cost $50 a hive.
BACK TO BEE THEFT
Heitkam noted that one stolen hive might result in $300 in lost revenue to the beekeeper. Also, the farmer could lose money if his blooms do not get pollinated and he ends up with lower yield in the fall.
Hives are coming and going this time of year, which makes it to distinguish normal bee rental from bee theft.
Each wooden bee hive box might contain six to eight wooden frames. These frames slide into grooves within the box.
Within the wooden frame, the bees build honeycomb, store honey and raise new bees for the colony.
When hives are stolen, thieves will usually take the whole box to another location.
The frames are transferred to a new bee box, and the old boxes are usually destroyed, Heitkam said.
The tens of thousands of bees will stick with their colony in the new box.
This article from Popular Mechanics has some good pictures of the interior of bee hives:http://tinyurl.com/zhmxfkp
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Heitkam said it would be helpful if people pay closer attention when bees are coming and going.
If people see bees being moved in the wee hours of the night, there might be something shady going on.
Detective Freeman said its great if people write down a vehicle description or license plate number if they see something suspicious. Then if a theft is reported there will be some information to follow.