Thefts Continue to Trouble Beekeepers

AgAlert By Christine Souza February 20, 2019

Butte County Sheriff’s Deputy Rowdy Freeman checks on commercial apiaries in an almond orchard near Oroville. Freeman says law-enforcement agencies around the state have received reports of bee-colony thefts, suggesting potentially tight supplies of bees for pollination.  Photo/Christine Souza

Butte County Sheriff’s Deputy Rowdy Freeman checks on commercial apiaries in an almond orchard near Oroville. Freeman says law-enforcement agencies around the state have received reports of bee-colony thefts, suggesting potentially tight supplies of bees for pollination.
Photo/Christine Souza

For some commercial beekeepers, California's almond bloom ended before it officially started.

Early last week, Tulare County beekeeper Steve Godlin of Visalia learned that about 100 honeybee colonies he was managing had disappeared from an almond orchard west of Visalia.

"We got hit. It's a nightmare," said Godlin, who had been managing the colonies for a fellow beekeeper from North Dakota. "It's very discouraging, obviously, to get the bees this far to a payday and then have them stolen."

Citing a shortage of bees for almond pollination, which this year requires about 2.14 million apiaries for more than 1 million bearing acres of almonds, Godlin said the bees were likely stolen Feb. 10.

Deputies from the Tulare County Sheriff's Department Agricultural Crimes Unit also took a report of a likely related theft the next day: Just a few miles from the Godlin location, Gunter Honey reported a second theft of another 96 hives.

Godlin said 100 beehives would be valued at $20,000 for the bees alone and another $20,000 for the pollination services—and that to steal that many hives would require a one-ton truck and forklift. His advice to farmers?

"Know your beekeepers, and if you or anybody in the public sees somebody loading bees up in an almond orchard, call the police. That's not the way it works. Bees should be going into the almonds, not out," Godlin said.

Butte County Sheriff's Deputy Rowdy Freeman, who investigates rural and agricultural crimes, said a theft of 100 or 200 hives at a time would likely be committed by someone who is a beekeeper.

"They know what they are doing. They have beekeeping equipment. They know how to go in and take them and have the means to do it. It could be a beekeeper who lost a lot of hives and can't fulfill his contract. Desperation leads to theft, so they will steal the hives from someone," Freeman said, noting that other bee thefts had been reported already this year in Kern County and in Southern California, with a total of 300 hives lost.

"What we typically see is they steal hives from one area and then drive several hours to put them on a contract, because the people there won't necessarily know that they are stolen," Freeman said. "Almond growers need to know whose bees are going into their orchards, what markings are going to be on those hives, and if they see anything different, they need to report it."

Early this month, Freeman investigated reports of a small number of bees stolen from Butte and Glenn counties. He later recovered about half of the bees, after deputies spotted some of the stolen hives loaded onto a small utility trailer parked in a driveway in Biggs.

Two adults were arrested for the alleged crime and for felony possession of stolen property. The recovered bees were returned to the beekeeper-owner in Glenn County.

The sheriff's department said the suspects planned to place the hives in an almond orchard in exchange for payment for pollination services.

Freeman said smaller apiary thefts could be carried out by people who aren't beekeepers, but are just looking to make quick cash.

"In a recent case I worked, they saw an ad on Craigslist, and they responded to that and came to an agreement," he said. "The farmer doesn't know who they are really dealing with, and that guy comes out and drops off a bunch of boxes that look like beehives and the farmer is happy he has bees. But he doesn't look inside of them. One case, there weren't any bees in the boxes, and they weren't beekeepers."

Freeman, who also became interested in beekeeping after investigating a theft in 2013 and now maintains about 50 hives of his own, said the thefts this season are likely related to a limited supply of bees.

Whether or not almond growers will have enough bees remains to be seen.

Mel Machado, director of member relations for the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative, said he hadn't heard "any issues related to a shortage of bees."

Almond grower Dave Phippen of Travaille and Phippen Inc. in Manteca said one of the beekeepers he works with was unable to bring the truckload of bees that he had agreed upon, but was able to deliver 400 bee colonies for Phippen's almonds.

"I got what I needed, but just by the skin of my chinny-chin-chin," Phippen said, adding, "It's a challenge every year."

Phippen said he expects the cost of pollination services this year will be approximately $190 per colony.

"The trees are excited and trying to open," he said. "The weather's been cool, so it held them back, but with this warm storm, I'm afraid they are going to progress quicker than they have been."

Machado said it would take a while to gauge the impact of last week's rains on the almond bloom.

"We just don't know yet," he said.

Freeman offered suggestions for preventing bee theft:

Beekeepers should place bees out of sight and off the road, and mark hives, lids and frames with identifying information so that recovered bees can be traced back to the owner.

Growers paying for pollination services should verify that colonies in the orchard or field match with the contract they have with the beekeeper.

Though it is not cost-effective for every hive, beekeepers should strategically place GPS trackers in certain hives.

Beekeepers and farmers should maintain a close working relationship.

The California State Beekeepers Association offers up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for stealing bees and/or beekeeping equipment; information may be sent to calstatebeekeepers@agamsi.com.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Department asked anyone with information regarding the stolen apiaries there to contact its Agricultural Crimes Unit: 559-802-9401.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=12734

Beekeepers Feel The Sting Of California's Great Hive Heist

NPR The Salt    All Things Considered  June 27, 2017

Beehives in an apiary Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Seventy-one million. That's the number of bees Max Nikolaychuk tends in the rolling hills east of Fresno, Calif. Each is worth a fraction of a cent, but together, they make up a large part of his livelihood.

Nikolaychuk makes most of his money during almond pollination season, renting out the bees to California's almond orchards. This year, a thief stole four stacks of his hives.

"He knew about the bees, because he went through every bee colony I had and only took the good ones," he says. "But, you know, the bee yards — I don't have no security there, no fences."

That lack of security means his bees have been stolen more than once. And it's a type of theft that's been playing out all over the state's orchards.

Literally billions of bees are needed to pollinate California's almond crop. Not enough bees live in California year-round to do that. So they are trucked in from across the country, from places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana. Earlier this year, around a million dollars' worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop."

"There were so many different beehives and bee boxes owned by so many different victims," Terrence says. "All of these stolen bee boxes that we recovered — none of them were stolen in Fresno County."

The bees were stolen from across California, but they belong to beekeepers from around the country. A few thousand bee boxes disappear every year, but this bee heist was different.

"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive.

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive. Ezra Romero for NPR. That was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year.

"There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says. But the alleged perpetrators of this giant hive theft broke that code.

"He went way, way over the line, Godlin says. "It's just, you know, heart breaking when you go out and your bees are gone."

Godlin has had hives stolen in the past. He and many other beekeepers make their income not just from renting out hives but also from selling the honey the bees produce. So when bees are stolen, beekeepers lose out on both sources of income.

Godlin says it takes time to develop a new hive by introducing a new queen and developing honey. "Bees, you know, we have been hit by everything from vandals to bears to thieves. But the vandalism and thieving is the worst. You know, the one that hurts the most."

Godlin says his organization will pay a reward of up to $10,000 for tips leading to the prosecution of bee thieves. But that only relieves some of the sting.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/06/27/534128664/beekeepers-feel-the-sting-of-california-s-giant-beehive-heist

Related: /home/2017/6/23/two-men-charged-in-major-beehive-theft-targeting-central-val.html

And the Thief - Watch for Stolen Bees

(The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.)  

From the Modesto Bee 

A $10,000 reward has been offered in the theft of about 80 bee colonies from an almond farm northeast of Waterford, CA, with a value of about $16,000. Grower Gil Silbernagel said entire pallets of bee boxes were taken in mid-February after having been delivered by Utah-based beekeeper Darren Cox. Other growers and beekeepers have been asked to be on the lookout for people trying to sell the stolen hives, all of which are branded on boxes, lids and pallets, and at least 80% of the frames with COX or CVH or D COX. People with information that could lead to an arrest can call (209) 552-2468 or (435) 232-9429.

An interesting twist to this is that although the responsibility and liability for the colonies was accepted by the grower in the pollination contract, the insurance company is refusing to pay the beekeeper for the loss, and, in fact, will defend the grower in court if the beekeeper chooses to pursue the case.