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Neighbours concerned about impacts of backyard beekeeping

The Riviera community is buzzing with concern over bee hives in their community.
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The Riviera community is buzzing with concern over bee hives in their community.

Several neighbours along Riviera View and Crescent reached out to the Cochrane Eagle to express their concerns that one of their neighbours, Kevin Kruger, has recently acquired two bee hives and is keeping bees in his backyard along his back fence.

While the residents maintain they understand the critical roles the yellow and black flying insects play in local and global ecology, they are concerned that an urban backyard may not be the place – especially given that three of the bee keeper's immediate residents, including a young child, have anaphylactic allergies to bees.

"It's a concern for us for sure," said Amy Miller,  a mother of two young sons, whose backyard borders Kruger's. Miller explained that her 20-month-old son has an anaphylactic reaction to bees, discovered through allergy testing. "With his reactions he's had neck swelling, redness in his face and the typical hives."

Amy showed videos of the bees swarming her backyard – around her children's water table, her plants and throughout her grass. She explained that every time the sun comes out, so do the bees and even though she said Kruger maintains that the bees are docile and "they have nothing to worry about" she disagrees and said that the bees have been actively swarming her yard as temperatures climb.

"We started noticing what we thought was an influx of wasps, because we've never dealt with (many) bees before," she explained, upon first observing the bees a few weeks ago. Amy said her husband, Miles, did confirm with Kruger recently about his new bee acquisition and that he was dismissive regarding their son's allergy.

While the couple have reported their beekeeping concerns both to the RCMP and bylaw, they feel they have been met with little resolve as bee keeping is provincially regulated under the Bee Act and there are no municipal regulations in the Town of Cochrane regarding beekeeping.

Frank Borsos, manager of municipal enforcement for the town, confirmed this.

"At present, there are no Town of Cochrane bylaws that prohibit such activity, however, anyone doing so is required to meet the provincial regulations and requirements under the Beekeepers Act, which are not within the municipality’s authority to enforce," said Borsos. "Municipal Peace Officers have contacted Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and were able to confirm that the resident in question is in compliance with the provincial legislation."

He added that officers have responded to complaints regarding the issue but did not observe bees swarming upon arrival.

Liz Goldie, director of the United Beekeepers of Alberta Council, said that keeping an adequate supply of water for bees is critical to bee management – something that neighbours interviewed by the Cochrane Eagle are concerned that Kruger has not been doing.

"Some main points include limiting the number of hives, preventing swarming, providing water for your bees and appropriately locating and inspecting your hives," said Goldie, adding that the Calgary and District Beekeepers Association has 400 paid members and 300 past (inactive) – where the focus on education has contributed to limited bee complaints in the City of Calgary. Goldie said of the estimated 1250 hives in Calgary, there are less than 10 complaints each year.

Kruger responded quickly to an interview request from the Cochrane Eagle and was surprised to learn of the neighbourhood backlash to his bee keeping.

"If it was a situation where the bees were aggressive, I wouldn't even have them," said Kruger, explaining that his neighbours' fears are largely unwarranted and based on unnecessary fears of honey bees.

"Without the bees, we're dead," he said, adding that he has done extensive research and was compelled to do his part for the environment upon learning of the rapidly declining bee population and the necessity of the flying insects to pollinate. "The biggest thing is probably education ... I think it's a normal reaction (fear) when you don't know."

Kruger said he feels there is a lot of misconceptions around honey bees and he does not feel his neighbours have reason for concern. He said that his high fences encourage the bees, once they begin to leave the hive at 21 days of age, to fly up and not down and into his neighbours'' yards.

Erik Welmer lives next door to Kruger and said he thinks it's unfair that neighbours have to suffer potential deadly consequences for the wants of one resident.

"At this point, you're talking about people's lives – kids with allergies," said Welmer, who said he has noticed the bees coming into his yard.

Jill Fleming, a mother of two and active community member, lives nearby. Fleming is concerned not only for the safety of those with severe allergies, but for the general sentiment in the community.

"Introducing these size of hives that can house 20,000 and more bees each into a residential neighbourhood is a red flag in my opinion. What happens if one of these children is stung? Then who is this on?" said Fleming

"Why not set these up 30-plus metres from structures like they do in other towns and cities? This would protect humans and bees," she said, adding that she has reached out to Mayor Jeff Genung and has been advised that the community can advocate for the creation of a bylaw to govern bee keeping within the town and that council would consider this.

"The decline of bees and pollinators is a growing concern around the planet," said Genung. "Recently, we have heard concerns from a number of residents regarding local bee keeping. Currently, Cochrane has no bylaws that prohibit or regulate this. Council will be discussing this further at an upcoming strategic session to determine next steps."

Correction: The City of Calgary does not currently have specific bylaws in place for beekeeping but does have guidelines that are enforced under the nuisance bylaw.

The City of Edmonton does have beekeeping bylaws in effect to manage urban bee keeping.




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Lindsay  Seewalt

About the Author: Lindsay Seewalt

Lindsay is a senior Eagle reporter who has transformed her penchant for storytelling into the craft of writing.
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