City May Put Rules on Bees
By Kiera Hay
Journal Staff Writer
The city of Santa Fe may buzz into the bee-regulating business under a new proposal from City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez.
But some in the New Mexico beekeeping community are questioning the need for the additional rules and bureaucracy for what is usually a backyard hobby.
Dominguez said he introduced the ordinance after fielding complaints about a beekeeper in his south Santa Fe district. Some neighbors "had some concerns because there were kids and members of the family who were allergic to bees," Dominguez said.
"I think it's relatively simple. This is something that has come from the constituency," Dominguez said.
His ordinance would require local beekeepers to register their apiaries with the city each year, a task that would include showing proof of an annual state inspection.
Beekeepers would also have to follow a handful of regulations that include keeping bees in movable frame hives, providing the insects with a source of water and limiting beekeepers on lots less than 10,000 square feet to four hives.
The measure would also prohibit colonies within 75 feet of a property line unless the bees are behind a wall, fence or dense vegetation barrier at least six feet high and extending 25 feet beyond the bees in every direction.
City staffers put the ordinance together after researching beekeeping regulations in other areas of the country, Dominguez said.
Alamogordo, which prohibits the activity altogether, is the only New Mexico city that now regulates beekeeping.
Kate Whealen of Santa Fe's Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers, said the trend in most communities around the country is toward deregulation and questioned whether the ordinance would be "an undue regulatory burden."
Most local beekeepers breed gentle bees and work hard to maintain a responsible operation and good relations with neighbors, she said.
"I think if they just say all beekeepers have to regulate and comply with blah, blah, blah, I think that would be a bit much," said Whealan. "This is like one apple spoiling the barrel."
The number of beekeepers in Santa Fe is hard to pin down, but sources the Journal spoke with estimate it to be at least 100.
If complaints about only one beekeeper are what's behind the measure, it might make more sense to deal with that person through the normal public complaint process, said Les Crowder, vice-president of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association. The local beekeeping community can also be a resource in troublesome situations, he added.
"I guess I feel like it's one more layer (of regulation) that isn't really necessary," Crowder said. "I don't know that it would solve any problems. If there is a problem, we can work to solve it."
Neither Whealen nor Crowder were aware of the proposed ordinance until contacted by the Journal.
Dominguez's measure specifies that any bee colony in violation of the city's regulations, as well as nests of stinging insects such as hornets and wasps, are a public nuisance.
One potential problem with the ordinance is a requirement that Santa Fe beekeepers, upon registering with the city each year, produce "a copy of the annual inspection certificate from the New Mexico department of agriculture for each apiary under the beekeeper's management."
But the state doesn't inspect "hobbyist" beekeepers, according to state apiarist Greg Watson. While New Mexico's agricultural statutes do say hives should be inspected before owners are allowed to sell honey, it's outdated language that was written when there were concerns about bacterial contamination in honey, Watson said.
He said the state hasn't inspected hobbyist hives since at least 1987 and doesn't have the manpower to begin doing so now.
Otherwise, Watson said the requirements in Dominguez's ordinance appear reasonable to him.
"I'm not against regulations. I would think that these people (beekeepers) probably would welcome this. It's not going to prevent them from establishing colonies, and it will allow them to be good neighbors," he said.
The proposal gets its first public airing Monday at the city's Public Works meeting. The City Council is slated to vote on the matter May 25.