A move to regulate bee-keeping in Skokie stirred up the proverbial hornet's nest at the village board meeting Monday evening.
The village has no ordinances that regulate keeping beehives, and since staff have learned of two backyard hives, the village is weighing the benefits and possible dangers and considering regulating or banning bee-keeping.
Catherine Counard, M.D., director of the village's health department, said the decline of honeybee populations in the country is spurring concern that many crops and foods may not get pollinated and thus not grow. However, she said hobby beekeepers don't keep bees in great enough numbers to solve the problem.
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She was also concerned about potential risks of bee stings to people, particularly people who are allergic to them. Based on Skokie's population, she said 1,300 to 3,200 people could be allergic.
"I don’t think it’s a good idea to have (beehives) on small lots with a dense population," she said, noting that they might be better suited to other towns which have larger lots or more space between homes, so that bees would not be so close to neighbors.
Sixteen people spoke during the public comment period, and 14 were in favor of allowing and regulating bee-keeping in Skokie. Some were master gardeners and others had researched the issue in depth. Two, who were the mother and father of a boy allergic to bee stings, spoke against it; their neighbor has a bee colony.
Barbara Ryan, who lives in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, said she keeps beehives on a 25 foot wide lot.
"There are children everywhere," she said. "We invite them in with their teachers. Nobody’s ever been stung."
Honey bees want nothing to do with humans, she said.
Gabriel Jacobs of Skokie said honeybees go 20 to 30 feet up in the air, then come down, do not interfere with foot traffic, and in general are very retiring.
Jeff Leider of Chicago's Northwest side, who identified himself as a professional beekeeper who has had as many as 22 hives at once, said, "Honeybees are bred to be gentle. They only forage on trees, flowers and water, versus other (similar striped yellow insects) which will forage pop and garbage-- so that’s where the misconception arises."
Theo Watanabe, one of the two beekeepers in Skokie that the village is aware of, said she made initial inquiries with the village health department, was not told that bees were banned, so she invested time and money to acquire her bee colony.
"Then I was told, get rid of your bees," she said. "I would be happy to find a new home for my bees, but how can you ask me to comply with a law that does not exist?"
One of her neighbors, Lynn Ullenbrauck, said her son is highly allergic to bees and Watanabe's beehive is only 40 feet away from where he plays basketball.
"My family’s security and welfare have been compromised," she said. "I don’t feel safe in my own back yard anymore."
Another neighbor, Toby Stern, who said she lives across the alley from Watanabe, spends a lot of time in her garden and has never been stung. She was not opposed to Watanabe having the bee colony.
Mayor George Van Dusen said the village manager, village attorney and health department would consider whether to take action. Skokie could ban bee-keeping, regulate it, place restrictions on how far apart bee colonies must be, or take some other action.
Chicago and Evanston have relatively recently permitted and regulated bee-keeping.