It was not that long ago conventional wisdom had it agricultural and urban activities simply aren’t compatible.
For a variety of reasons that has been changing. In cities and towns around B.C., including Smithers, limited and strictly-regulated agricultural uses seem to be working out just fine. Specifically, keeping backyard hens for personal use has not resulted in any great nuisance since council permitted it in 2015.
Now, the question before council is whether to extend permitted agricultural activities in residential neighbourhoods to beekeeping.
The health benefits of local honey reducing allergic reactions have long been touted.
Bees are also among the most prolific pollinators, something we humans rely on for our very survival and declines in bee populations are a worrisome issue.
And, although there are some who fear the possibility of anaphylaxis, honey bees, properly managed, are non-aggressive and deaths from stings, from all kinds of bees, are exceedingly rare.
Consequently, many cities in Europe and North America, including Vancouver, now permit hobby beekeeping.
The Town of Smithers posted a poll on the subject following the request made to council. It received 554 votes, 89 per cent being in favour.
On the surface, it appears to be a pretty straightforward proposition, or as Smithers Beekeeping Club president Tom Smith called it, “a no-brainer.”
Is it, though?
The science on local honey and allergies is, at very best, non-conclusive. Even if anaphylaxis from bee stings is exceedingly rare, is even one death worth the risk? Vancouver is not Smithers, we live in bear country. And, just because something is popular, doesn’t make it good policy.
Of course, everything has inherent risks. In the case of beekeeping, most of the risks, including bears, can probably be dealt with by stringent regulation and enforcement.
The issue of bee conservation, however, is complex. There is growing scientific evidence that outside of large, intensive agricultural systems, honey bees are not the answer to conservation and may actually negatively impact conservation efforts.
Urban honey production is likely in Smithers’ future, but it is certainly not something council should take lightly.