Dick Barnes lives on a peaceful residential street in Bixby Knolls. He’s a kind, soft spoken retired journalist in his late sixties and he‘s an outlaw. So are his desperado friends Barbara Sinclair and Henry Kurland, both in their sixties as well. Every first Sunday of the month, they meet at the EDCO Recycling Center with roughly 50 other renegades from the Long Beach area and plot their next acts of delinquency.
They’re white-collar crooks, but they’re not stealing identities or devising Ponzi schemes. They’re in the pest-removal racket. The white collars help protect from stings.
“We’re bee criminals,” Barnes jokingly confesses.
A city ordinance stipulates that while beekeeping is legal, they must be kept 100 feet from structures and thoroughfares, be a minimum of 10 feet off the ground and be registered with the county. According to the group, these dated guidelines have made it essentially impossible to legally pursue their hobby and passion: saving nature’s most important pollinators one swarm at a time.
“I’ve stood in front of City Council and said ‘I have bee hives in my backyard and I’ve had them for over five years and my neighbors don’t even know’,” Kurland explained. “That’s how unobtrusive they are.”
He has worked tirelessly with the City in an effort to curtail the ordinance to more manageable guidelines. He is optimistic that by next year, his proposal of a five-foot buffer zone from structures and roads and no minimum elevation for bee hives will be the letter of the law. The club is also hopeful that the city can provide a space to store the overflow of homeless pollinators.
“It seems only fair that if we’re going to work hard to save bees, an endangered—or if not endangered, a threatened—species that they could provide or think about providing a space to hold them,“ Barnes said. “It’s a win-win. The city doesn’t have to exterminate them, they can foster them. And, they’re bees that are being managed by beekeepers that have an interest in winnowing out the really, really aggressive bees.”
And what about the dangers of keeping thousands of bees in close proximity to people? Kurland, the club president, says it’s simple. Bees, like humans are temperamental and they shouldn’t be generalized because of negative coverage in the news.
“All bees are aggressive some of the time,” Kurland said. “If a hive is short on food, they get ill tempered. If they’re missing a queen, they get ill tempered. If they’ve been vandalized by people or animals, they get aggressive. It’s situational.”
The benefits of the proposed bee sanctuary wouldn’t stop at the city level. The space would allow the club to store excess bees during colder months, which in theory, would allow for them to deliver ready-to-go hives to any backyard gardener who’d like more bees around to nourish their fruits and vegetables. The hives that the club would place and maintain for free also dangle the possibility of a sweeter reward: honey.
“And you get to feel good that you’re protecting an endangered creature that all of humanity depends on,” Sinclair says.
The club used to have a bee yard at Farm Lot 59, a bio-intensive mini farm located north of Sunnyside Cemetery. But after differences arose between the farm and the club, the bees were sent packing. One potential new home for the bees that the club is eyeing is the Tree Yard near the nature center inside El Dorado Regional Park. It would provide the keepers both the access and amenities needed for the bees to flourish while also keeping the insects out of the public eye. The LBBC is open to any solution though, stating that given the versatility of bees, a truck lot or even a private owner with land to spare would do just fine.
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Barnes and his friends hope that through the growth of their own club and securing space for a sanctuary they’ll be able to tear down some of the myths associated with these crucially important insects by offering school field trips and making outings to farmers’ markets.
“It’s part of the educational process where we could convince people that there’s nothing to fear and you don’t have to run for the Raid every time you see a bee,” Barnes said.