Honey bees have been news makers over the past several years.

It started when the phrase “bee colony collapse disorder” (CCD) started flying into daily headlines in 2006. Soon after the United States Department of Agriculture proclaimed CCD a serious problem that threatened the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States.

The big problem for bees is the very low or no adult honey bee presence — not even dead bodies — in a hive that has a live queen.

The main problem for human beings is that, as the DOA says, “Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables depend on pollination by honey bees. These are the foods that give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.”

The DOA monitored the problem over the past several years and reports “annual losses from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent.”

Several theories have been offered as the cause of CCD: unusually warm winters, a need to introduce new practices to enhance bee nutrition, cyclical diseases, or an unknown cause.

Studies are mixed. Some show a higher number of pathogens — viruses, bacteria, and fungi — associated with CCD; others provide data that suggests a connection to pesticides.

While the DOA reports that there is no scientific proof for any cause at this time, the agency also places importance on solving the problem before it becomes a major agricultural problem.

Now New Jersey bees are making news with recent legislation introduced by Assemblyman Parker Space, a Republican representing the 24th District in Sparta.

The 46-year-old farmer and owner of Space Farm Zoo and Museum (along with Extreme Pizza) writes in a recent editorial that “bees are vital to our food chain,” and “protecting and promoting honey and native bees is crucial for maintaining a healthy agriculture industry.”

Space says his legislation helps address the problem in New Jersey and enhances the bee presence in the state by supporting commercial and amateur apiary practices.

Currently, according to Space, there are an estimated 3,000 commercial and hobby state beekeeping operations that make up a $7 million honey bee industry that, in turn, contributes to the production of nearly $200 million worth of fruits and vegetables annually.

He says that he was moved to create the legislation to protect and promote beekeeping because some municipalities are attempting to ban beehives as a result of a “misguided fear” that honey bees are aggressive.

Space writes, “One of my four measures authorizes the state department of agriculture to regulate the keeping of beehives while giving municipalities a role in managing this growing hobby at the discretion of the department. Another extends ‘Right to Farm’ protections to commercial beekeepers to protect them from nuisance complaints, which can be costly and time-consuming. The third bill establishes a fine for intentionally destroying a man-made native bee hive, while the fourth urges residents to support beekeepers by purchasing honey made in state.”

A call to several municipalities in central New Jersey where beekeeping is being practiced showed no standard approach or general awareness by township administrators that hives existed in the community — some on rooftops in the heart of the community.

According to several central New Jersey beekeepers, the pending legislation would incorporate the following recommended practices already promoted by the state department of agriculture: Bee colonies would have to be registered annually with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture; hives construction would need to conform to simple state standards; keepers would have maximum of three colonies of honey bees on any tract one-quarter acre or less; hives less than 10 feet from a property line would need a flyway barrier at least 6 feet tall and extending 10 feet beyond the colony on either side; and a barrier or fence must be erected to protect animals and children.

While Space’s legislation deals with municipal guidelines for beekeeping in a state that has a large human population, more serious legislation regarding bee health and hives has been on state statutes since the early 20th century. These laws include penalties for knowingly keeping bees infected with illness.

The wording in the law calls the practice “a public nuisance.” Today’s news watchers know it for what it is: a serious threat.

For more information, visit www.state.nj.us/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/beeguidelines.pdf.

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