Amid virus, bee­keep­ing still an es­sen­tial ser­vice

Enterprise-Record (Chico) - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Harnik

Be­lea­guered in­dus­try re­mains largely un­af­fected by pan­demic as bee colony vol­ume is deemed im­por­tant.

WASH­ING­TON » “Ex­cuse me, can I ask what you’re do­ing here?” a res­i­dent in a south­east Wash­ing­ton neigh­bor­hood asks as Sean Kennedy and Erin Glee­son get out of their truck and scour the streets.

The sign on their back wind­shield, “Bees On­board,” gives them away.

Kennedy, 58, and Glee­son, 36, are bee­keep­ers. They and their col­leagues have been deemed es­sen­tial work­ers by the Dis­trict of Columbia govern­ment in the mid­dle of a pan­demic.

On this day April, the pair is re­spond­ing to a phone call about a swarm of hon­ey­bees. At first glance it ap­pears as if it might be a bad tip. Kennedy looks down a fence line while Glee­son walks across the street and past a few houses.

“Let’s check the al­ley,” Kennedy says, and quickly they’re back in their truck. The truck moves slowly as they scan fences, trees, and rooflines — all places where bee swarms might stop.

As they reach the end of the al­ley, they find what they were look­ing for: a dark mass about 2 feet long that most ca­sual ob­servers would walk by with­out notic­ing. Upon closer in­spec­tion, this brown mass moves with quiet ac­tiv­ity, thou­sands of bees hud­dling with no nest to pro­tect them.

Within two hours, this clus­ter of bees will be col­lected, driven across town and given a new home on some of the most de­sir­able real es­tate in the city.

If a hive is thriv­ing and be­comes too large for its own space, the queen will take half the hive and set off to find a new lo­ca­tion to start a new hive. If this swarm isn’t col­lected up by a bee­keeper, the new hive can set­tle into back­yards, at­tics, crawlspace­s, of­fice build­ings, or high traf­fic pub­lic spa­ces, cre­at­ing a nui­sance that can alarm some peo­ple.

“Bees are not ag­gres­sive un­less you in­vade their home or step on them,” Kennedy says. “But they do put peo­ple off. Some peo­ple are just in­nately afraid of things that st­ing and maybe that’s pri­mal and nec­es­sary, but if you have them in your of­fice build­ing or you have them in your tourist spots, they be­come a prob­lem. So, it’s good to catch them in that mid­dle step when we can just put them some­where where they are wel­come.”

For the past five years, the D.C. Bee­keep­ers Al­liance has re­sponded to calls from res­i­dents about bee swarms. These bee­keep­ers call them­selves the “Swarm Squad” and will come to all ar­eas of the re­gion to take away un­wanted bees and give them a home, with the added ben­e­fit of col­lect­ing honey.

Last year the group re­sponded to just 12 calls; this year has been es­pe­cially busy.

“We had on the first swarm call day of this year, as many calls as we had in all of last year,” says Toni Burn­ham, the group’s pres­i­dent, who es­ti­mates re­ceiv­ing calls so far about 60 to 75 swarms.

The coro­n­avirus out­break co­in­cided with the start of warmer weather, when bees nat­u­rally be­gin sep­a­rat­ing from their hives. When dis­trict of­fi­cials be­gan look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of shut­ting down the city due to the out­break, Burn­ham reached out to her con­tact at the D.C. Depart­ment of En­ergy & En­vi­ron­ment.

“When I saw the lock­down happening and re­ally scary quar­an­tin­ing things, I called up our reg­u­la­tors and said es­sen­tially, ‘If we’re go­ing to catch swarms we need to not be ar­rested.’ They took care of it, she said.

“Bee­keep­ers needed to be es­sen­tial be­cause of­ten the hives that they keep are not on their prop­erty,” says Tommy Wells, the depart­ment’s di­rec­tor and a for­mer mem­ber of the City Coun­cil. “So, they need to be able to travel and get to their bee colonies.”

Wells and his team at the agency also are look­ing at the broader pic­ture and whether there are enough bee colonies in the re­gion. He said if there are colony col­lapses else­where, D.C. bees can be moved where nec­es­sary.

AN­DREW HARNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Hon­ey­bees fly around bee­keeper Sean Kennedy as he works to re­lo­cate a swarm from a fence line in a neigh­bor­hood in Ana­cos­tia April 20, in Wash­ing­ton.

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