ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Ranch Homeowners Association exterminated a beehive earlier this month despite growing local and national concerns regarding the population decline of bees.
After a concerned citizen noticed a beehive housed in an electrical valve box near Ranch Paseo de las Flores Street at the Encinitas Ranch, the hive was exterminated within the following days.
Stephanie Wilson, who first observed the hive while in the area, contacted Dick Stern, president of the Encinitas Ranch HOA, with the intention of saving the bees via live removal performed by the Encinitas Bee Company.
After Wilson offered to pay for the live removal herself or create a fundraiser, Stern promised in an email that the bees would be safely removed to a new location.
“They have resources to do live be removals or live bee transfers but they just make the choice to not take that route,” said Wilson. “They make the choice to just poison it and stick their heads in the sand rather than do the right thing when it is so easy to do the right thing.”
But when Wilson returned to the electrical box the following day, she discovered a lifeless hive. The Coast News subsequently confirmed that Stern had never hired the Encinitas Bee Company to conduct a live removal of the hive.
“We don’t use chemicals and don’t kill anything. It was obviously not us that did the job,” said James McDonald, owner of the Encinitas Bee Company.
Stern did not respond to a request for comment.
While it’s unclear exactly how many bees were killed in this incident, the average hive consists of 30,000 bees.
Similar to the San Diego Padres receiving widespread criticism in 2019 for exterminating a beehive during a baseball game, Wilson is simply advocating for more community awareness.
“My hope is that the greater community will put pressure on them to change their policies and not just the policies there but elsewhere in our community,” said Wilson. “It’s really surprising to me that with so much awareness about the issue that it’s not thought of.”
Wilson’s concerns stem from the alarming decline of bee populations in past decades. From 1947 to 2016, U.S. Natural Agriculture Statistics recorded a 60% reduction in honey bee hives.
According to the same source, the number of bee colonies per hectare has witnessed a 90% decrease since 1962.
As confirmed by the USDA, pollinators, such as bees, are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take and contribute more than $15 billion dollars to the US economy every year.
Local beekeepers argue that HOAs have exasperated the problem by opting to exterminate rather than perform live removals of the hives.
“A lot of these HOAs have it written in their clause that you are required twice a year to have an exterminator come to your property and poison like every living thing,” said McDonald. “In a nutshell, it’s the chemicals. These chemicals break down the bees immune system. They’re dying at a record rate, 50% of all domesticated bees die every winter”.
The Coast News reached out to several North County HOAs. Two, in particular, Rancho Carlsbad Owners Association and Tiburon Carlsbad Homeowners Association, confirmed that they exclusively enforce live bee removals.
A third association, Pilot Property Management, noted that they attempt live removals as much as possible.
Encinitas Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, a beekeeper himself, noted that the city does not plan on adopting legislature to protect beehives, citing dangers and complications that come with live removals.
“We try to live remove them but we don’t have a policy that precludes extermination. It’s not an easy decision. It’s not intended to allow people to exterminate bees for convenience,” said Kranz. “Live removals can be complicated, so can extermination. Every circumstance is different. A lot of the bees that are in valve boxes tend to be a little more aggressive and Africanized so removal of those bees can be dangerous”.
Africanized bees, commonly referred to as “killer bees,” can be a danger to humans and other animals. These non-native hybrid species of bees have killed approximately 1,000 humans, according to The Smithsonian Institution.
Quentin Alexander, a local beekeeper with Hive Savers, argues that the threat of live beehive removals has diminished and that preserving bees is more crucial than ever.
“Over the last five years, I haven’t worn gloves for literally every single bee removal,” said Alexander. “I know the gene pool of Africanized bees is being so diluted. Sure there are little pockets here and there but we’re talking very few very dangerous beehives.”
Alexander has called for San Diego County to ban chemicals harmful to bees like neonicotinoid insecticides such as Roundup.
According to the science-based non-profit Xerces, these chemicals often become present in pollen and can affect a bees’ nervous system and kill them. If not disposed of properly, an exterminated beehive can endanger any wildlife that consumes the deceased bees.
“Killing bees in is not the solution,” said Alexander. “Safe, chemical-free behavior-based honeybee relocation are feasible options for humane alternatives.”