Jeanne Hanson wants to help honeybees without scaring anybody.
For years now, bees have been struggling to survive an onslaught from mites and various diseases. But, because they're prolific pollinators, bees are critical for healthy produce and flowers.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there's a hundred beehives in Madison," says Hanson, who is involved with the Dane County Beekeepers Association and keeps bees herself at her east-side home. "There are not many wild hives. There aren't good places for them. There's a hollow tree every once in a while, but as soon as a tree dies, people cut it down. If they nest in a wall, they're instantly removed."
"Honeybees very much need beekeepers keeping hives to live," she adds.
Which is why Hanson hopes a new ordinance (PDF) introduced Tuesday by Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway passes the Common Council. The ordinance would allow residents who get a $10 permit to keep up to six hives, with certain restrictions.
Beekeeping isn't currently illegal, but the city has no formal rules regulating it. The ordinance creates these rules, forbidding hives bigger than 10 cubic feet. They also cannot be closer than 15 feet from a property line, 40 feet from a sidewalk or principal building on an abutting lot. If the hive is within 25 feet of the property line, there must be a "flyway" barrier at least six feet high and 20 feet long, requiring the bees to fly up instead of directly into a neighbor's yard. There also must be a constant supply of water.
Rhodes-Conway is sponsoring the ordinance in part to acknowledge the growing local food movement in Madison. "Where you've got a backyard garden or a flower bed, somebody's got to pollinate," she says.
Since Hanson has been keeping bees, her neighbor's plum tree has started to bear fruit, which it never did before. Unlike other pollinators, honeybees cover vast amounts of land, traveling up to two miles to find pollen, Hanson says.
Hanson knows that some people are afraid of bees because of the potential to get stung. But she says this has mostly been exaggerated, and less than 1% of the population has an allergy. "If you're not aggravating the bee or stepping on it, you won't get stung," she says. "The people who get stung are beekeepers, because we open up the hives."
"We try to be responsible neighbors," Hanson adds, saying the proposed ordinance "protects the neighborhood from someone who wants to put in 20 hives. It also protects our one little beehive from some neighbor who is afraid of our little bees."