Battling beekeeping bills collide Wednesday on Utah's Capitol Hill

Tuesday , February 16, 2016 - 7:04 AM8 comments

By CATHY MCKITRICK Standard-Examiner staff

SALT LAKE CITY — Dueling beekeeping bills are scheduled to be discussed in a legislative committee Wednesday on Utah’s Capitol Hill. One would impose new regulations and penalties while the other would roll back current requirements.

Rep. Marc Roberts, a Republican from Santaquin, is sponsoring House Bill 115, which would make the mandatory state registration for beekeepers optional. By registering and paying a minimal yearly fee, beekeepers get in line for inspections, training and other information provided by the state Department of Agriculture. His bill would also prohibit cities and counties from enacting ordinances that would bar property owners from establishing or owning apiaries.

Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, is sponsoring HB 315, which would limit commercial beekeepers to one per two-mile radius. A commercial beekeeper is defined as a person who owns 21 or more hives, while a hobbyist owns 20 or less. Utah law defines a hive as “a frame hive, box hive, box, barrel, log, gum skep, or other artificial or natural receptacle that may be used to house bees.” 

McIff’s bill carries the threat of a class B misdemeanor charge and up to $1,000 in fines per day per violation. 

Kaysville beekeeper Adam Buchanan said he would prefer less regulation to more. When he launched his three hives, Buchanan said he knocked on neighbors’ doors, let them know what he was doing and also gave them jars of honey. 

People later thanked him.

“They told me their flowers and pumpkins thrived because of my bees. It’s not just the honey, it’s the pollination too,” Buchanan said. “People are excited about that.”

Buchanan opposes the mandate that beekeepers must register their hives with the state.

“Beekeepers are harmless and so are bees,” Buchanan said. “Why don't we put more attention on pornography and cyberbullying. We sorely have our priorities mixed up.”

Ogden City Councilman Richard Hyer views state registration of hives as beneficial rather than burdensome.

“That regulation is not actively enforced in terms of punitive issues, and beekeepers see it as a protection in case of disease in the area,” Hyer said, noting that the Department of Agriculture would then be able to inform them of what they needed to do. “Most beekeepers consider that a small price to pay to get that kind of information, so it seems reasonable and logical to keep that in place.”

2016 marks Hyer’s fourth season as a hobbyist beekeeper.

“I very much enjoy it. The bees are fascinating to watch and it’s just a fun hobby. The local honey is a real perk too and gardens do so much better,” Hyer said, noting that his neighbors have also commented on how their gardens flourished due to his hives.

In an online post, the nonprofit Libertas Institute blasted McIff’s HB 315 as protectionism for commercial beekeepers, calling the penalties and fines an absurd, unwarranted over-reach that would be unenforceable. The libertarian organization warned that HB315 would allow a single commercial beekeeper to secure “first come first serve” rights by establishing a few apiaries two miles apart, thus extending his or her reach for miles and locking out competitors despite potentially abundant nectar sources.

Libertas Institute came out in support Roberts’ HB 115, because it “largely deregulates beekeeping, allowing property owners to engage freely in the market and participate in a natural process without being on a government list and paying fees.”

In a Facebook post last month, Albert Chubak, director of the Western Apicultural Society in Utah, called HB 115 “thoughtless,” saying it makes zero sense to deregulate beekeeping when the spread of disease is the biggest risk. Apiculture refers primarily to commercial beekeeping.

“Most of Utah's fertile areas are shared by both commercial and backyard beekeepers, and if one beekeeper with little to no experience has hives where they think they want to go ’natural,’ this essentially becomes a breeding ground for mites and disease, with access to all other colonies within a 2-3 mile radius,” Chubak said.

Both HB 115 and HB 315 are slated to be heard by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment committee Wednesday at 8 a.m. in room 445 of the Utah State Capitol.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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