To bee or not to bee, that is the question.
For Smithers town council, anyway.
At their May 14 meeting council heard a letter from the Smithers Beekeepers Club (SBC) requesting a bylaw amendment that would allow people living in residential-zoned areas to raise honeybees.
Current laws already allow people living in agriculturally-zoned areas within the town to keep bees.
SBC president Tom Smith has multiple hives, each capable of providing a home to up to 50,000 honeybees at peak production.
He said his reasons for keeping the insect (technically considered a farm animal, which is why they can be kept in agriculturally-zoned areas) are both practical and personal.
“I like to see them, I like to wander around my yard and see bees and flowers and stuff like that but I also, at the end of the year, like to have honey.”
Smith said the request came out of numerous appeals from residents, most notably those at Smithers Brewing Company, who were looking for the ability to produce their own honey that they could use in brewing.
“They wanted to be able to say these are our bees and this is where the honey comes from and stuff like that,” Smith said.
But beyond brewing mead, Smith said that, to him, giving the approval for bees in residential-zoned areas is a no-brainer.
He added that as he was not president of the club at the time the decision was made to allow people to keep chickens in town, he is a little unclear on why council at the time explicitly said no to bees when they made the decision.
Smith points to larger areas in the Lower Mainland and Okanogan that allow the insects in residential areas.
“If you can allow them in [a] town where there’s a whole bunch of people then there certainly should be room in Smithers,” he said.
As for resident concerns regarding honeybees as an invasive species and the potential for those with allergies to be stung, Smith said they were legitimate concerns but that the risks were minimal.
“In terms of increasing the risk of being stung I suppose if you went out of your way to poke a beehive you could get stung but they typically are not aggressive, they don’t like to sting,” he explained.
Interestingly enough, however, Smith also pointed to evidence that suggests honey can be very beneficial to those with allergies to local pollen or other things in the air.
“There’s a lot of pollen and enzymes in there that don’t get destroyed if you don’t heat it [and] there’s evidence to suggest [that] honey reduces or is a benefit to allergies to things like pollen.”
As for competition with wild species, Smith explained there are differences between bumblebees and honeybees that limit the degree to which they can compete with each other.
One of the main reasons, he said, is because wild bees don’t collect as much nectar as honeybees, meaning that in many cases, there is a lot to go around.
“They don’t have the necessary drive to collect a whole bunch of pollen they only need a very little before they start setting their nest and eggs,” he explained.
Another potential concern that Smith addressed was the potential for bears and other large animals to be attracted to the hives.
A potential concern, Smith admits, however not for the reasons you’d think.
“People often think of bears being after honey, more often than not they are actually after the larvae,” he said, adding that he supports regulations for rules surrounding keeping bees and that the key is to make sure people understand how to do it responsibly and without causing a risk to themselves or their neighbours.
For Smith, this means putting up an electric fence around his hive.
“It’s a pulse, it’s not like you see on TV where somebody grabs it and you can see their skeleton,” he said with a laugh.
“It hits you pretty good and it’s not something you want to do twice.”
While he has seen bears on his property, he said he has never had an issue of one getting into the hive, something that, to him, indicates it’s working.
Smith points out that even if the approval was made, there are probably not a large number of people looking to spend four figures on a beehive.
He said he was a little sad to hear the process would likely not be finished in time for people to take part in this year’s bee season.
“I’m thinking that’s too bad because … the brewery could have theirs and people in town could have theirs this year, but if we have to wait until we actually start working on it in the fall, I think that’s a little unfortunate.”
After council heard the request, Mayor Taylor Bachrach posted a poll asking residents what they thought on the matter.
That poll ended with 554 votes, with 89 per cent in favour of allowing bees in residentially-zoned areas and 11 per cent against the idea.