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Sweet News: New York City Dumps Beekeeping Ban

Beekeeper Deborah Greig checks on her hives last fall at East New York Farms. When the bees emerge this spring, Greig will no longer be an outlaw.

New York City's underground beekeepers can come out of hiding. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene voted unanimously today to lift a decade-old ban on raising honeybees within the city limits.

The decision means that beekeepers no longer face thousands of dollars in fines if their hives are discovered. It also means that aspiring beekeepers can look forward to starting their own rooftop and backyard hives -- legally -- for the spring growing season.

The change to the health code, which had previously banned honeybees alongside other "aggressive" animals such as lions, crocodiles, and pit vipers, will go into effect at the end of April.

"I've been abstaining for six years, just waiting for this ban to be lifted," said bee enthusiast Anna Thea Bridge, "so I'm just ecstatic after today's decision." Bridge has studied beekeeping as a hobby over the past few years. She now plans to start her own hive in Sunnyside, Queens.

Today's decision follows a February 3 public hearing where gardeners, arborists, and community activists supported a change in the beekeeping ban. No one spoke in opposition.

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"City beekeeping will contribute to the pollination of plants in our parks, rooftop gardens, and community farms," said Vivian Wang, a litigation fellow with the Natural Resources Defense Council whose work has helped ban a pesticide that is potentially toxic to bees.

Wang has taken classes on beekeeping and is a core member of the New York City Beekeepers Association (NYCBA). She said bees need all the help they can get, given the threat of what's been called "colony collapse disorder" -- a mysterious condition wiping out honeybee hives around the world.

"Given the troubling trend of pollinator decline," Wang said, "it is important to legalize beekeeping and encourage people to learn about the critical role that bees play in our ecosystem."

The city's new rules will require beekeepers to protect both their hives and their neighbors by selecting locations that aren't a public nuisance and ensuring that bees have access to fresh, clean water.

It's important to teach new beekeepers to maintain healthy hives, said NYCBA President Andrew Coté. He doesn't want to see "cowboy" beekeepers starting hives and then abandoning them. Coté's organization provides an introductory course for beekeepers, as well as an ongoing series of meetings and workshops to help beekeepers hone their skills. (Learn more here.)

"We look forward to expanding our ranks," Coté said.

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Crystal Gammon is an intern at OnEarth. Before moving to New York City to study science, health and environmental journalism at New York University, she received a master’s degree in earth science at the California Institute of Technology. She’s ... READ MORE >

It would be nice if people would also start learning more about native bees. They don't live in hives, so don't have colony collapse disorder, but their populations are also in decline. Some of the reasons are unknown, but it's partly from loss of habitat, more urbanization, pesticides, and fewer native flowers as nectar and pollen sources. Planting more natives in urban gardens would help! Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas Tallamy has lots of information about the problems of bees and other insects, and some of the things urban gardeners can do to help.

We took our kids out to pick their halloween pumpkins this year. The farmer also had a bee hive and someone asked him if it was good honey. He said it was great of course and then he said something that made my wife listen. The farmer said that local honey can help people with allergies. I thought he was joking but when we got home, my wife researched it some more. There are no official studies but many people report that eating local honey does in fact reduce their allergies. The theory, according to what she read, is that people sort of get immunized to the spores that cause their allergies because they are getting small doses when they eat local honey. And since I love honey on toast, I am not going to complain one bit either.