Press "Enter" to skip to content

Planning commissions support proposal for residential beekeeping

HILO, Hawai‘i — A proposal that would allow Big Island beekeepers to work closer to home remains popular among residents and policymakers alike.

While apiaries and beehives are currently only allowed on agricultural-zoned land, Hawai‘i County Council Bill 144 would open them up to be kept in any zoning district, while revamping statutory language governing beekeeping.

As written, the bill allows apiaries of up to 15 honeybee hives on lots of less than 20,000 square feet, although the planning director can grant exemptions to larger apiaries. Apiaries must be at least 25 feet from any property line, unless they are behind a flyover barrier, in which case they can be 15 feet away.

Gone is a condition that requires apiaries to be more than 1,000 feet from a “major road,” which beekeepers have said is both a nebulous term and a prohibition that outright prevents many people from keeping bees on their property at all.

Also included in the measure is a list of generally accepted beehive management standards for beekeepers, including regular inspections of apiaries, re-queening hives if the bees display aggressive behavior and more.

The proposal, which was previously discussed at a council committee meeting in April, went before the Windward Planning Commission on July 1. The Leeward Planning Commission unanimously voted in support of the measure on June 20.

Vanessa Houle, secretary for the Big Island Beekeepers Association, told the commission that state laws regarding the transport of bees — it’s illegal to import live bees, and only drone bee semen can be shipped to the state — makes it vital that the county can support a robust local beekeeping industry.

Quoting state Department of Agriculture statistics, Houle said the Big Island is home to 88 percent of all bee colonies in the state, and is a vital provider for mainland beekeeping operations as well.

“Point blank: the mainland needs Hawai‘i’s queen bees,” Houle said, explaining that, because of Hawai‘i’s climate, it is ideal for raising the queen bees at the heart of each bee colony. Hawai‘i provides 40 percent of mainland U.S. queen bees, and 60 percent of Canada queens.

With a per-queen value of $25-$40, the queen bee industry alone represents an annual revenue of $20 million for the state.

Furthermore, Houle said that Hawai‘i’s bees, in turn, have an enormous impact on agriculture throughout the world. In Hawai‘i alone, she said, farm sales that rely to some extent on honeybee pollination — including coffee, macadamia nuts, avocados and more — amount to roughly $212 million per year. On the mainland, those sales are even greater: up to $20 billion.

At the same time, bees are increasingly under threat from climate change, extensive use of pesticides and various invasive pest species. Because of this, Houle said, people can no longer rely on “wild bees” for pollination.

Taking all of this into account, Houle said the bill will make it easier for people to operate their own hives throughout the island.

“We’ve found that restricting by lot size inadvertently discriminates against people who cannot afford a larger lot,” Houle said, adding that a small lot in Puna can support a much higher density of bees than a larger oceanfront lot in Kona.

The commission voted unanimously in support of the bill, sending it back to the council with a favorable recommendation. However, chair Dennis Lin briefly expressed concerns that the bill does not require beekeepers to notify neighbors if they are setting up an apiary.

Harry Holm, president of the Big Island Beekeepers Association, said that Hawai‘i’s honeybee populations don’t yet include Africanized bees, a subspecies of the insects that are much more aggressive. Consequently, he said, a backyard apiary will constitute much less of a threat to neighbors.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, introducer of the bill, said she had considered a clause requiring beekeepers to notify neighbors, but ultimately decided against including it because it could be an obstacle for would-be beekeepers to get started, and would also constitute a significant workload for the county Planning Department.

“We want to encourage folks, if they plan to keep bees or are keeping bees, go deliver a jar of honey and make friends with your neighbors,” Kierkiewicz said.
Source: The Garden Island

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply