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Neighbors take swipes at Evanston boy's beehive

By Courtney Flynn
Tribune staff reporter
Published May 12, 2006


Gabriel Jacobs says he's fascinated by animals that aren't typically kept as pets, so when his mom brought home a book about bees, the Evanston teenager saw an opportunity for a new hobby: beekeeping.

After more than a year of researching the topic and building a hive in his back yard, Jacobs was set to bring home 12,000 honeybees he ordered from California.

Then his next-door neighbor found out.

Now the whole neighborhood is debating Jacobs' beehive, and city officials are considering what should be done to regulate the insects, which currently are not mentioned in the city's code.

"I understand people are a little afraid of being stung, but I don't get this whole thing about hating bees," said Jacobs, 14. "I mean, if one dog bit me, I wouldn't ask the city to ban dogs."

But some of Jacobs' neighbors say having a hive that could grow to accommodate 60,000 to 80,000 bees poses a danger to the neighborhood, which has small lots and is home to children and pets.

"I've been in the precarious position of being the grumpy next-door neighbor," said Dolan McMillan, 34, who saw Jacobs building his hive and contacted city officials.

Some neighbors on the block say Jacobs' beehive would heighten the risk of residents being stung and endanger people with severe allergic reactions to bee stings. They are also concerned about swarming, when bees gather tightly together in a tree or other location before establishing another colony.

"There's a perceived fear, and it's hard to get over for anybody who doesn't know any better," McMillan said.

Bee experts say that although the neighbors' concerns are natural, they are unfounded, for the most part.

Honeybees tend to be docile creatures, and the chances of being stung by a wasp or hornet is greater than being stung by a honeybee, said Ken Haller, president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association. He said it's rare to have a severe allergic reaction to a stinging insect.

Honeybees do swarm naturally when there are too many bees in a colony but tend to be docile at that point because they are not in a mode of protecting their home or honey, said Steve Chard, apiary inspection supervisor for the state's Agriculture Department.

"Typically a swarm of bees is not aggressive in any way, shape or form," Chard said.

Experts acknowledge, however, that if a hive is disturbed, bees can get defensive and sting. They could not recall any specific instances when a mass of honeybees attacked somebody.

Gene Robinson, a biology and entomology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said honeybees play an important role in nature as the primary pollinator of the world's food crops. Bees move between plants to collect nectar, depositing pollen from their hairy bodies in the process, he said.

Bees also can provide a source of income by way of their honey and educate beekeepers about entomology, botany and chemistry, experts say.

About 1,200 registered honeybee keepers in Illinois keep more than 20,000 colonies, 500 in Cook County, Haller said. Honeybees may fly 3 to 5 miles away from their hives to collect food, he said.

Although city staff members recently proposed a ban on beekeeping in Evanston, the City Council's Human Services Committee has told them to find out how other communities regulate bees and whether non-residential areas of Evanston might be better suited for beekeeping, said Health and Human Services Director Jay Terry.

While some communities, such as Oak Park and Berwyn, have banned beekeeping, other major cities, including Chicago, not only support the practice but encourage it.

The rooftop of City Hall is home to two hives. There are countless other back-yard beekeepers in Chicago, said Michael Thompson, one of the beekeepers the city contracted with to maintain the rooftop colonies.
Thompson, who has been beekeeping in Chicago since the 1970s, said there are 100 hives in one residential area alone, on the West Side, as part of an agricultural cooperative that harvests honey and provides job training.

"We've had bees in the city for a long time and we've never run into any trouble," Thompson said. "Honeybees are really focused--not on defending the hive so much but on food collection, foraging for nectar and taking care of their young."

For now, Jacobs' bees, which he picked up this week, are being kept in his hive at a nature center in another city, said his mother, Susan Dickman.

Under state law, beekeepers are required to register their colonies with the state's Agriculture Department within 10 days, which Dickman said she and her son would do.

Evanston committee members are expected to discuss the issue again June 5, and the full council could consider the matter at its June 12 meeting.

"I think bees are fascinating creatures, and I think what they do is a marvel of the universe," said Ald. Edmund Moran, a member of the committee. "But to put it in an open environment with little kids and elderly people and pets and all that and to say, `Don't worry, be happy,' it's not really reassuring."

Some of Jacobs' neighbors agree. In addition to citing a risk of being stung, they said Jacobs would violate their property rights if bees ended up in their yards.

"It's just common sense that if you walk into an area with a lot of bees, you have a greater chance of getting stung and getting stung multiple times," said John Black, 42, who lives on Jacobs' block.

"Also, my neighbor's hobby shouldn't presuppose the use of my property without my consent."

But Heather and Andy Eloff, who live with their two small daughters two doors down from Jacobs, said they support his efforts and don't think the honeybees will pose any threat.

"It's not like you have 60,000 of them forming an arrow and going after somebody," Andy Eloff joked. "Now if it were a mosquito farm, then I'd be really upset."

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Poor kid. He has some paranoid neighbors. Hope it works out for him.
 

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This fear is compounded many times by media sensationalism. This is especially true in the areas where AHB's (Africanized Honey Bees) have been found. I have watched this "Killer Bee Hysteria" spread and be unilaterly applied to all honey bees before. None of the people in the story mentioned them, but their irrationalism leads me to believe that may be what they are thinking about.

>"Also, my neighbor's hobby shouldn't presuppose the use of my property without my consent."

This statement is just ludicrous. Nature does not recognize property boundaries! I guess I should start charging my neighbors every time birds nesting in their trees forage in my yard or peck my tomatoes.
 

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>"Also, my neighbor's hobby shouldn't presuppose
> the use of my property without my consent."

The only valid reply would be:
Hey stop that guy!
He's breathing MY AIR!!!!
 

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lol, yeah "I didn't authorize the guy to breath the air over my property". Though this did bring up a question for myself. Does anybody know if you're required to register a hive in the state of NY?
 

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Jim, excellent reply. Really made me laugh. :D

[ May 12, 2006, 10:03 PM: Message edited by: Neubee ]
 

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>"It's just common sense that if you walk into an area with a lot of bees, you have a greater chance of getting stung and getting stung multiple times,"

Rarely is common sense dictated when noted.

Hope the kid gets to keep them.........always
 
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