By: Mark Di Ionno – The Star-Ledger
Janet Katz is the President of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, and like most beekeepers, must protect her hives from extreme cold and heat, drought, disease, starvation, the loss of a queen and even bears.
Now, after two decades of nurturing bees for honey and wax, and to pollinate her gardens, she now has a new worry: the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
“They should be encouraging beekeeping, not making it harder,” said Katz, president of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, and who has four hives on her two-acre property in Chester Township.
But harder it will be. With fees, waiver applications, setback requirements and other zoning gobbledygook — all the things that bureaucracy does to suck the honey out of a comb.
On Jan. 19, a new set of beekeeping regulations that, if adopted, the beekeeping community says would wreck their hobby worse than Colony Collapse Disorder. You can still comment on these new restrictions. Email address at the end of this article.
Backyard beekeeping, a learning tool for scouts and 4-H clubs, as well as inquisitive, environmentally-minded children and adults, will all but die under the new regulations, beekeepers say.
New hives on properties less than one-quarter acre will be prohibited. Since a typical neighborhood lot size of 50-by 150-feet is 7,500 square feet, or 1/10th of an acre, bye-bye to bees in Bayonne.
That might be understandable, though a typical urban or suburban home does have enough backyard space for a garden and flowering plants to keep the bees fed and pollinating and happy, without having to swarm into a neighbor’s yard.
But the new restrictions for the one-quarter acre to five-acres make no sense to anyone in beekeeping circles. And, beekeepers in surrounding states should be paying attention to this because it could come home to them, too.
Even in residential zones where agricultural use is permitted, the state is restricting beekeepers to two hives. For perspective, five acres is roughly the size of four 100-yard football fields. A typical beehive box is 18-inches by 18-inches, a mere square half-yard. So, bye-bye to bees in Basking Ridge.
“These density requirements are out of whack with national standards,” said Bob Kloss, who has 15 hives on two-acres in rural Three Bridges.
Kloss has been collecting data that shows even high population areas, such as Long Island, allow twice has many hives on parcels than does New Jersey. At least so far.
Worse still, the beekeepers say, are new requirements that would force beekeepers to build flyway barriers of six-feet or higher. “The flyway barrier must be made of a solid wall, fence, dense vegetation or some combination thereof.”
Translation: more work, fewer beekeepers. Add to that new requirements for continuing education for beekeepers, even hobbyists.
“No other livestock caretakers have to have continuing education,” Katz said. “I can have chickens, goats, sheep … but if I have bees, I have to take courses. It doesn’t make sense.”
Next up are the waivers. The application process resembles something akin to building a house, including providing lot and block number and blah blah blah of the property and notifying all neighbors within 200 feet. The waivers will be granted by municipalities, which will also set application fees. And that defeats the original purpose of the legislation that created the new regulations, Katz said.
“The point here was to have state guidelines, so beekeepers wouldn’t be at the mercy of every local jurisdiction,” she said.
The beekeepers say a situation in Peapack-Gladstone with a “nuisance beekeeper” created too much negative input as the new regulations were being discussed.
“One beekeeper, on one street, in one town, made it worse for the rest of us,” Katz said.
In an email response to questions, the Department of Agriculture said “when drafting proposed regulations, we must take all parties into consideration. Those parties include the beekeepers, residents who are not beekeepers, and the bees themselves. Additionally, we considered the health of the bees and their ability to effectively pollinate different areas.”
This story really begins with two episodes that devastated the honey bee population.
The first was the varroa mite epidemic that began killing them off about 15 years ago. Next came Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006, which hit North America and Europe and persisted for several years. By 2013, 10 million beehives were wiped out.
Before those events, Katz said, her organization had about 400 members. After, the membership blossomed to 1,300. She estimates there are 3,000 beekeepers in the state.
” And then colony collapse raised huge awareness about the importance of bees,” said Erin Gilmartin, who has been a beekeeper for five years and manages 30 hives at the 57-acre Hillview Farm in Meyersville.
The proliferation of beekeepers added to the bee population and the increased pollination of fruits, vegetables and flowers. It also created a bounty of two other New Jersey staples: ordinances and fees.
“We began to see ordinances to restrict beekeeping in some towns,” said Katz. “Some towns wanted to charge for permits.”
In 2013, Republican Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, whose 12th District covers the farm belt towns of western Monmouth and Ocean counties and northeastern Burlington, introduced legislation to put all beekeeping regulations under the Department of Agriculture.
The beekeepers were thrilled.
“We thought the Department of Agriculture would help us,” Katz said. “We were wrong.”
Instead, the beekeepers say, the proposed regulations are more restrictive.
“This will really hurt the growth of beekeeping as a hobby,” Katz said. “And we need these bees.”
In New Jersey – remember, the Garden State – bees pollinate some of the state’s most productive crops, beginning with tomatoes. The state’s blueberry and cranberry industry needs honey bees, as do garden variety fruits and vegetables; cantaloupes and watermelon, cucumbers and peppers.
“My bees pollinate the apple orchards across the street,” Katz said. “And they still have apples on the trees (long after the picking season).”
The public comment period on the new rules closes on Jan. 19. The Department of Agriculture position is that “comments made through that email will be considered in making any adjustments to the proposed rules.”
The email address is email@example.com.