By Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. (The Best Bees Company) via blog.kidsgardening.org
Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States with illegal beekeeping. Why eliminate pollinators, you might wonder? The answer will definitely surprise you.
Bees are vitally important to our local ecology, and also to our local economy. As pollinators of over 100 fruit and vegetable crops, bees contribute over $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and that extends to over $100 billion globally annually. Even the little known, alfalfa leafcutter bee contributes an estimated $7 billion each year, just for its role in pollinating hay and alfalfa crops, upon which our entire cattle industry relies. Fewer pollinators mean higher prices at the markets, and less availability of nutritious foods. The cost of California’s almonds has doubled in the past five years, due to myriad causes, in part affected by declining honey bee populations.
Beekeeping was banned in Los Angeles on June 10, 1879. Policy makers received dubious information regarding bees attacking and damaging fruit. They decided that the best way to preserve our crops was to ban bees. Even today, Angelinos must kill beehives upon site.
In 1917, there was an article in the LA Times calling the no-beekeeping policy, “an ancient and still-unrepealed city ordinance.” A century later, Los Angeles continues to carry this legacy.
We now understand pollination. We know that more bees actually lead to more fruits and vegetables. The future for beekeepers in Los Angeles may be bright, however, with City Councilor Katie Peterson and other policy makers working to legalize beekeeping soon.
Bees Do Better in Cities
In my 2012 TEDxBoston talk, I shared data showing that urban beehives produced more honey than rural beehives. Furthermore, urban beehives also had higher survivorship than in the countryside. This trend continues today (see figure on right of 2014 data).
Despite the evidence showing that bees in cities are more productive and survive better than in the countryside, policy barriers are often in place prohibiting this from taking place. Policy makers are increasing their legislative actions to be more permissive for urban beehives, with beekeeping allowed in Seattle in 2008, New York City in 2010, Boston in 2014. San Francisco totally allows beekeeping unrestricted, while Denver limits to 2 hives in the rear 1/3 of a zone lot. Los Angeles is slated to be the next major metro area to allow beekeeping in residential areas. Even Washington, DC now has its first beehives at the White House grounds, in step with President Obama’s 2014 memorandum, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”
Urban beekeeping took flight in New York City in March of 2010. It was made illegal by the Giuliani administration in the 1990’s, along with a list of dozens of prohibited animals. In the years since its legalization, the island of Manhattan became a pollinator haven. After my recent talk at the March 30, 2015 meeting of the New York City Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers asked if there were too many beehives in the city. Beekeepers in London talk about this, as well. Is there a saturation point, with too many beehives in the City? That’s how common beekeeping is in New York and London. (One way to measure this is based on the Great Sunflower Project, whereby everyday citizens record the number of bees visiting a flower for 10 minutes each day, as a means of gathering data to measure pollinator abundance; this hasn’t yet been done for cities.)
Access to urban beekeeping is a social justice issue. It gives everyone access to local, healthy food. It allows for companies like The Best Bees Company to create new jobs. What’s more is that is allows for a new avenue of corporate sustainability, with businesses opting to put beehives on their rooftops as a display of their commitment to the environment.
Simply reusing a towel or having an herb garden on the rooftop is not necessarily enough these days for a hotel to rise to the top of the sustainability ranks. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step for sustainability branding.
Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. We should change laws to allow more of it to happen and also educate the public so they can also raise bees on their rooftops to allow for a more sustainable future for both humans and bees, alike.
11 City Buildings Where One Would Least Expect Beehives (But They’re There)
- InterContinental Hotel Times Square (New York)
- Wells Fargo building (Denver’s tallest building)
- Columbia Center (Seattle, tallest building west of the Mississippi)
- The White House
- NAME PROTECTED (Los Angeles)
- Chicago City Hall
- Prudential Center (Boston)
- 888 Brannan (San Francisco; AirBNB & Pinterest headquarters)
- San Francisco Chronicle building
- Fox News building (New York)
- Brooks Brothers headquarters (New York)
Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is the founder of The Best Bees Company and author of The Bee: A Natural History, now available through Princeton University Press. For more information about Best Bees’ services, or to schedule a complimentary site consultation in and around Boston, NYC, DC, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, SF, or LA, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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