After Beekeepers Drone On, Skokie May Take Sting Out of Beehive Ban

Advocates for backyard beekeeping spoke for two solid hours at Monday's village board meeting, providing encyclopedic information on beekeeping. Some appealed to Skokie's values of tolerance and diversity, saying a ban was too harsh.

Netiva Caftori showed two jars of honey produced from her beehive. Photo: Pam DeFiglio, Patch.com
Netiva Caftori showed two jars of honey produced from her beehive. Photo: Pam DeFiglio, Patch.com

The only thing that could have made Skokie's lovefest for beekeeping Monday more complete would have been to have Paul McCartney warbling Let It Be in the background. 

Thirty-six people--including master gardeners, doctors, educators, business owners, a 92-year-old beekeeper and a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner--urged the Skokie village board not to ban backyard beekeeping. 

Three people--the two parents of a boy allergic to bee stings and the village's health department director--urged the board to pass the ban. 

Dr. Catherine Counard, director of the Skokie Health Department, started off the evening encouraging village trustees to take a two-pronged approach--pass the ordinance which would ban backyard beekeeping and open a community apiary where beekeepers could keep hives. 

Earlier: Beekeeping in Skokie? Idea Causes Swarm of Interest

"The village staff agrees to work with beekeeping advocates, and work with the Skokie Park District to determine if a community apiary can be adopted," Counard said, adding that both the park district and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which has land in Skokie, were open to the idea of hosting the apiary.

Carol Machalinski, president of the Skokie Garden Club, said, "I visited her (Skokie beekeeper Theo Watanabe's) property; I found her hive to be neat, compact, well-sited and well- tended. Our group would unanimously like to allow beekeeping in Skokie. As you might expect, we love flowers and we understand the role of bees in this process."

Watanabe said 135 people at the Skokie Farmers Market yesterday had signed a petition in favor of backyard beekeeping.

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Skokie resident Valerie Shuman said she was downright embarrassed of her village after the Huffington Post ran an article.   She read from it, "Despite the disappearance of crop-pollinating honeybees that has alarmed everyone from backyard beekeeping hobbyists to the Environmental Protection Agency, one Chicagoland village wants to kill the buzz."

She commented, "Congratulations, Skokie, we’re nationally famous.  We’re against fostering a species that is recognized internationally to be as important as clean air and clean water... This is our opportunity to be way better than this."

Resident Ariane Glazer said people wanted backyard beekeeping, and a community apiary would not be the same thing. 

Netiva Caftori, who has hives in Skokie and showed the board two jars of honey they had produced, said she could move her hives to a community apiary but would rather not.

Several speakers applauded Skokie for its track record of being environmentally friendly and having values like tolerance and diversity, and said a beekeeping ban would be inconsistent with all that.

However, Linn Ullenbrauck, who lives next door to beekeeper Theo Watanabe, and has a son allergic to bee stings, said her family was never contacted before Watanabe put in the hives, and that she is afraid to spend time in her backyard.

"Words cannot express how uncomfortable it is to walk outside and see thousands of bees," she said.

"My family’s safety and security have been compromised.  I understand about colony collapse disorder, however, the properties in Skokie are right on top of each other," an echoing of Counard's earlier statement that Skokie's small lot sizes meant backyard beehives would be too close to neighbors.

Her husband Myles Ullenbrauck said, "The fact that 100 people a year die from bee stings is amazing to me. The fact I have a son who’s allergic frightens the hell out of me."

Evelyn Shavitz, a 92-year-old Skokie beekeeper, urged those present to work with the Ullenbraucks, not against them.

"They’re frightened for their kids," she said. "Let’s work with them too and not harass them. And not just say we have to have our bees. We have to have sympathy for them, let’s see if we can educate them on bees."

After many more discourses on honeybees' reluctance to sting people, the fact honeybees are dying off and thus endangering food crops and other honeybee topics, with the clock rounding to 10 p.m., Mayor George Van Dusen proposed a compromise of sorts. 

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"What the board needs to do is strike a balance between the concern articulated by two of our residents this evening, a genuine concern of residents with children, yet at same time many of you make some very good points about the importance of bees as a hobby and also to our environment," he said.

He suggested referring the matter to staff to find a way to regulate backyard beekeeping adequately to address the concerns of residents on both sides of the issue, and the board quickly voted in favor of that idea. 

Trustee Randall Roberts, who said he had walked in prepared to vote against the ban, thanked the speakers for the Beekeeping 101.

"I'm hoping to regulate this so we can keep our neighbors safe and  also permit backyard beekeeping," he said.


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