In many instances, when a number of individuals have engaged in an activity that might affect others, there will be efforts to regulate or standardize that activity. Those efforts are, sometimes, based on the premise that others need to be protected. An activity, such as beekeeping, that a person may engage in, simply for their own enjoyment and benefit, will become subject to oversight by others. That oversight might simply include volunteer support organizations such as the Oregon State Beekeepers Association and its regional associations. However, there will also be those in government that will want to require specific training, licensing, codes, rules and regulations to ensure the activity does not pose a problem to others in the community.
As beekeeping has progressed, particularly over the last 20 years, to include many residential beekeepers with a few hives, regional beekeeping associations have grown from having fewer than 50 members, to having memberships of 100 to 200 or more, With more residential beekeepers, there are now more interactions between beekeepers, their bees and neighbors. In many cases, not because of anything the beekeeper has or has not done, the beekeeper has faced scrutiny by their neighbors and local governmental officials. Most often, driven by concerns and complaints from fearful or concerned citizens, local governmental agencies have responded with efforts to “protect” others in the community.
Such efforts have included a range of actions throughout Oregon as well as the country, as there is no recognized set of guidelines, rules or processes that, if required, can be equably applied to residential beekeeping. Nonetheless, in responding to their constituents, some local governments: 1. Through the use of ordinances, have banned beekeeping all together. Interestingly, many of these ordinances; surely not by intent but rather from a lack of understanding; have also banned the keeping of all other “bees”, including Mason bees. The cities of St. Helens and Junction City have bans. 2. Allow residential beekeeping, but only with many restrictions, that might include limits on the number of hives, their locations, the type of hive construction that may be used, hive placement in the apiary, notifications to neighbors and in some cases neighbor approvals, along with a number of other requirements. Cities with restrictions include Gresham and Hubbard, both of which recently adopted new rules to replace those rules that previously banned beekeeping. 3. Permit beekeeping but limit only the number of hives to a few. For instance, Salem allows up to 5 hives, and by rule classifies an apiary with more than 5 hives as commercial beekeeping operation which is not allowed in residential areas. Otherwise it applies nuisance rules if there is a problem. 4. Some local governments do not specifically address residential beekeeping in their codes but instead will use “nuisance” rules or ordinances to order a correction if a problem with beekeeping arises. The cities of Albany and McMinnville and Mollala now use this approach after their city councils rejected citizen requests to adopt residential beekeeping bans.
It should be noted that some local governments also have requirements that residential beekeepers register each year and pay a licensing fee that is based, in part, on the number of hives. And most recently, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, through legislative directive, now collects a yearly registration fee of 10 dollars plus another 50 cents per hive, if any beekeeper has 5 or more hives during the previous “beekeeping” year.
In most cases, when asked by new beekeepers about what local rules and regulations might apply to them, they were advised them not to to ask their local officials. A beekeeper might not like the answer they would receive. Moreover, by asking the question the beekeeper might, stir up a “hornet’s nest“ that could result in local officials deciding to adopt specific codes, rules and ordinances which, more likely then not, would set limits on their beekeeping.
So the question is, how did we in Oregon and even the country itself, come up with this mishmash of regulations? Why for instance does the following happen? A beekeeper who is allowed to keep bees in one location moves to another location, still within the same postal code, but unfortunately, the new location is also within boundaries of another city which bans beekeeping, and so the beekeeper is then prohibited from keeping bees. Nothing changed as far as the beekeeping practices. Without widely scientifically based and recognized or established rules or guidelines that have been agreed to, many local governmental agencies came up with their own rules; even if none were (are) necessary. With little or no knowledge of beekeeping and without consultation with beekeepers, some local officials relied on information from other states, articles and news reports, citizen input (often not in favor of beekeeping) to propose and adopt a wide range of codes, rules and ordinances. Others responded by banning beekeeping all together, over fears about Africanized bees. Still other city officials adopted limitations, because a council member wanted to protect his nephew, who is allergic to bee stings. Previously, that same city had a ban on beekeeping because the city had adopted a rule prohibiting exotic species within the city limits and bees were included in that list. Over the last 30 years or so, as towns have grown into cities, city officials in keeping with their urbanization, decided to restrict farming activities within city limits. Since honeybees are often classified as livestock for agricultural purposes, some cities, intentionally or otherwise, also banned beekeeping when they banned livestock.
About 16 years or so ago, as officers of the Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association (WVBA) we were asked to assist a local beekeeper who had been cited and threatened with a fine for having 2 colonies of honeybees in their backyard. Upon reading the City of Salem ordinance it was obvious that it was being misinterpreted and misapplied. We presented our arguments to the enforcement agency and they responded that we would have to appeal to the city council for a variance to the ordinance, in order to keep the hives. A costly process, that the beekeeper did not want to pursue. So they decided to remove the hives. It should be noted, this same issue came up again, a few years later, and combined with a little politics, we pressed the issue and the city council agreed with our arguments and residential beekeeping is now allowed.
This was the start of a number of interventions; more than ten; by Harry Vanderpool, myself and others, in the years since. City by city we disputed interpretations, presented counter arguments, offered alternatives and assistance and appeared before many city councils. In nearly every case we convinced the city officials not to adopt specific codes, rules or ordinances, and to withdraw or soften the enforcement of those, already in encoded, that placed unneeded and unnecessary restrictions on residential beekeeping. It soon became evident that responding city by city was time consuming and did not change or reduce the limitations in other cities. It also became evident, that as we researched the literature and other sources, that there was no consensus and no scientific basis for most of the rules, codes and recommendations that might relate to ensuring residential beekeeping would not be or become a “nuisance” in the community. Rather, for the most part, the existing codes, rules and guidelines were based on guidelines that beekeepers had developed for themselves and were intended to help beekeepers be more productive and better stewards of their bees. Initially, it was thought, that beekeepers should seek legislative assistance, to set into code, a set of minimum rules for Oregon residential beekeeping that would supersede all those of the local governments. At least then, there would be consistency, no bans and everyone, beekeepers and local officials would know what was required.
It became obvious that a set of rules, no matter how carefully crafted, would be restrictive in one way or another and force residential beekeepers into a one-size fits all practice. That would run counter to beekeeping being as much art as it is science and the need to be able to be flexible and alter practices, as needed, cannot be proscribed. It was also felt, that if this issue was raised with the Oregon legislature, at that time, the legislators might end up adopting statewide laws that would set restrictions that would be worse then those that required us to respond to issues, city by city. We advised the officers of the regional associations to notify us, at the OSBA, if a problem with residential beekeeping arose. The OSBA Agricultural Liaison would then respond and take the lead. This would help ensure a coordinated response. So we sat back and waited for the next request(s) for assistance. And a few of them came in and we responded, while some were responded to by others. Unfortunately, not all of the responses, by others, were successful in assisting the beekeepers.
This all began to change, in early 2015, when Oregon Representative Chris Gorsek convened an advisory committee to address residential beekeeping. The committee consisted of representatives from the OSBA, Oregon cities and counties, Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Department of Agriculture and legislative aides. One other participant was Raine Ritalto who, after facing a ban on beekeeping in Gresham, had requested legislative assistance to eliminate the confusion, unneeded restrictions and conflicts that surround residential beekeeping. As a participant, the OSBA, initially offered a proposal that the cities and counties be banned from adopting specific rules, codes or ordinances to cover residential beekeeping and that only nuisance ordinances be used to regulate and address problems should they arise. The city and county representatives objected to this proposal as they “did not want to be told” what they could or could not do at the local level. However they would appreciate some guidance. After several meetings, the basis for House Bill (HB) 2653 was proposed and after some changes and near unanimous support, it was adopted and became effective January 1, 2016 as Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 602.035 and 602.045. By January 1, 2019 the new statutes require:
- The Oregon State University Extension Service in consultation with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and beekeeping organizations (i.e. the OSBA) shall establish written Best Practices for Residential Beekeeping
- The Best Practices are to include recommendations that nuisance ordinances be used to manage conflicts that arise from residential beekeeping
- Local governments will have oversight of residential beekeeping activities
- The Oregon State University Extension Service with help from the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties shall disseminate the Best Practices to local governments and make beekeeping information available to them and the general public
- Local governments shall review local ordinances and determine whether to adopt new ordinances consistent with the Best Practices
- Local governments may charge a reasonable fee for registering residential bee hives. Note: A new statute in 2017 limits the fee to no more than that charged by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
In late 2016, a committee consisting of OSBA officers and representatives from several regional OSBA associations, along with Raine Ritalto and a member of the Oregon Department of Agriculture met with Andony Melathopoulas, PhD, from Oregon State University to work on the Best Practices. After an initial draft, considerable additions and reviews over the spring and summer of 2017, the Best Practices are now in the final stages of review and acceptance for issuance as an Oregon State University Extension Service peer reviewed document. The Best Practices focus on those practices that residential beekeepers can use to reduce and eliminate problems that might arise from their beekeeping activities. Many of the recommended best practices will minimize nuisance issues before they arise and they are also good beekeeping practices, that will help establish and maintain productive hives in the residential environment.
It must be emphasized that the Best Practices are guidelines only, and are not intended nor should they be considered as hard and fast codes, rules or ordinances that must be followed and enforced. Rather the Best Practices are to be used to foster nuisance free residential beekeeping and also serve as a guide for addressing problems when considering and applying nuisance codes, rules and ordinances by local governmental enforcement agencies. The Best Practices document is very comprehensive and includes sections on: 1. Why residential beekeeping is important, 2. What the Best Practices are and what they are not, 3. What does nuisance free mean?, 4. Directing the honeybee’s fight path, 5. The need for and the provision of water, 6. Swarm reduction practices, 7. Minimizing defensive behaviors, 8. Stings and allergies, 9. Robbing elimination, 10. Beekeeper education, 11. Hive location considerations, 12. Number of colonies per apiary, 13. Honeybees and skunks, 14. Interactions with neighbors, 15. Registration of hives, 16. Responses to citations, 17. Sources for information and assistance.
When the Best Practices have been printed and distributed, later this year and early next year, we as beekeepers along with the Oregon Master Beekeepers have the expertise to assist other beekeepers and the cities and counties in complying with the new laws. We may be asked to, and in any case, volunteer to aid governmental agencies with their reviews of the Best Practices, their existing codes and rules and any adoptions they might consider that would relate to residential beekeeping. We will also need to ensure, as much as possible, that every residential beekeeper, both old and new, are provided a copy of and encouraged to follow the Best Practices. It is to our benefit as beekeepers that this is done, so as to avoid the adoption of restrictive and/or punitive codes and rules instead of the preferred use, of the more flexible and reasonable nuisance ordinances, that are applied only when and if a problem arises because a residential beekeeper failed to practice nuisance free beekeeping.
To help carry out the outreach activity, as consultants to beekeepers and local governments, the OSBA would like each OSBA regional association to have at least one member who would be designated as the Residential Beekeeping Consultant and who is able to respond to and assist those in their regions. The consultant may be called on and spent a bit of time in this capacity during the initial compliance with the statutes. It is then expected that after the local governments conduct their reviews, and make any code revisions, that the consultants will then be available to help ensure that new beekeepers are aware of the Best Practices and then as requested assist and advise beekeepers and enforcement agencies, if residential beekeeping issues arise. To facilitate this interaction the OSBA will make available and distribute the consultant contact information. In addition the OSBA Agricultural Liaison will continue to coordinate and provide assistance to the regional consultants and to take the lead when and if needed.
The Best Practices and the new Oregon Statutes are, for the most part, unique in this country and it is hoped and we believe that they will stabilize and eliminate the confusion, restrictive rules and bans that some residential beekeepers must contend with. The Best Practices are not only for the OSBA but for all Oregon beekeepers and is hoped that anyone, who may teach and/or mentor other beekeepers or who may interface with local governments, that they will also promote the Best Practices.