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Beehives in Skokie? Idea Causes Swarm of Interest

Health director's suggestion to ban beehives prompts honeyed words from many beekeepers, and a stinging rebuke from neighbors whose son is allergic to bee stings.

Dr. Catherine Counard, director of the Skokie Health Department, cautioned against allowing beehives on Skokie's small lots. Photo: Pam DeFiglio
Dr. Catherine Counard, director of the Skokie Health Department, cautioned against allowing beehives on Skokie's small lots. Photo: Pam DeFiglio

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.

 

 


 


 

   



Beth Buzil July 17, 2013 at 06:01 PM
On behalf of my many friends and family who reside in the village, just like me they strongly support the right to local responsible beekeeping -having honeybees and their hives and to help keep our local area beautiful and sustainable. Keep in mind that honeybees are kept in many public places including Chicago Botanic Garden, Lincoln Park Zoo, Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago’s City Hall, Morton Arboretum, The Shedd Aquarium, Millennium Park, and even many schools and also the University of Chicago. Banning this right to responsible beekeeping and especially because one child is allergic to bee stings is insane. With this ban in place he will still be allergic and there will still be bees. It also does not make sense since the global concern with many millions of bees that have been suddenly disappearing. The fact that we rely on bees to have a healthy planet, we should all be encouraged rather than banned to have and keep bees.
Susan Joy July 17, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Two problems exist in Dr.Counard's thinking. One is that she grossly exaggerates the potential harm to Skokie residents. According to epidemiological studies, Skokie can expect about one wasp or bee sting related death every 250 years, since according to a British study there are an average of four deaths each year in the United Kingdom, whose population is about 1000 times that of Skokie's. Secondly, she is falling into the common trap that most or all stinging insects are bees. According to the same study in the British Medical Journal, "People allergic to wasp venom are rarely allergic to bee venom." The majority of people who claim to be allergic to insect stings are in fact allergic to wasps. Bee sting allergy is mostly a problem for beekeepers.
Longtime Skokie Resident July 18, 2013 at 10:52 PM
I would welcome bees to the community as I grow many flowers & vegetables, which require pollination by BEES! Those objecting need to get educated.

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