Home >Companies >News >Detroit bumbles over 12 million imported bees

The Core City neighborhood of Detroit is getting 300,000 new residents next year. That is welcome news for some locals living in an area where the population has shrunk. But these newcomers don’t pay taxes or mix well with some of the locals—especially when they sting.

The new imports are part of an effort that has brought about 12 million honey bees to metro Detroit over the last five years. The nonprofit behind it says pollination stations that house hives around the city support the rising number of urban farms that offer residents much-needed fresh produce.

“There are so many empty fields, it can’t do anything but help add some color to all the green, grassy lots," said Don Carter, who was born and raised in Core City and regularly visits his 95-year-old mother, who still lives there.

But the effort has riled critics who are rushing to the defense of Detroit’s native bees. Some environmentalists accuse the nonprofit of “bee washing," or glossing over the fact that local bees—which might not make honey but can hold their own as pollinators—are facing competition from newcomers that might spread disease and eat the nectar bees need to survive.

Then there are the humans.

Damon Currie, 46, lives near a small orchard on Detroit’s East Side where the nonprofit, called Bees in the D, placed about 360,000 honey bees in 2019. Last summer, he and his 8-year-old son were stung.

“I started waving off the bees that were around him and I got stung too," Mr. Currie said. “I had never been stung before that in my life."

It wasn’t until Mr. Currie started noticing more bees that he began to search for the source, and a neighbor pointed out the hives on the corner of the block.

“They couldn’t knock on the door and tell us about it? The hives just appeared one day," Mr. Currie said. “We’ll just be sitting on the porch talking, laughing, and the bees will come at us and ruin it. Take those hives somewhere else."

Brian Peterson-Roest, the founder of Bees in the D, says he notifies people living adjacent to the new hives, but says he isn’t able to reach everyone in an area. The city doesn’t notify residents of new hives.

In recent years, studies showing an alarming decline in wild bees, which play a critical role in food security by pollinating plants, including food crops, have spurred an explosion of amateur beekeeping among concerned gardeners, suburbanites and city-dwellers wanting to help replenish bee populations.

Other studies suggest that managed bees bring disease to native bees and that wild pollinators are less active in areas where there are more honey bee colonies.

“Honey bees are so different from our native bees," said Sheila Colla, an associate professor of environmental studies at York University in Toronto whose research focuses on the conservation of pollinators and who is familiar with the Michigan-area ecosystem. “The bees that are at risk of extinction are ones you can’t order by the millions."

For Mr. Peterson-Roest, a 5th-grade teacher who founded Bees in the D in 2016, a free beekeeping class he took 13 years ago drove him to dive into vigorous research of bees. That transformed his life, he says, and pushed him to start Bees in the D.

“I was in a real low in my life when the bees came my way and brought new purpose to me," he said.

Mr. Peterson-Roest noticed the empty green spaces left behind from Detroit’s steady depopulation over the years and realized they would be ideal for beekeeping to support the urban farms that have mushroomed around the city.

He said loss of habitat, pesticides, mites and climate change are the main threats to native bees.

He said that farmers and gardeners can’t rely solely on native bees for pollination because they tend to be solitary.

Bees in the D plans to unveil a $1.1 million botanical garden on an empty lot in Core City that will include five new hives housing about 300,000 bees, newly planted meadows and a center to offer beekeeping and gardening classes. It’s expected to open in Spring 2022.

“People rely on urban farms and gardens here because there’s not a lot of grocery stores nearby," said Mr. Carter, who has seen Core City decline as local businesses shut and buses stopped running through the area as frequently.

Mr. Peterson-Roest struck deals for Bees in the D to place honey bee hives on properties of local farms, restaurants and even companies such as General Motors. General Motors didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Early on, he often transported bee hives in his car, with hundreds of thousands buzzing around in boxes in the back seat. Sometimes a few escaped, whizzing around the windshield as he drove, he recalled.

“But they’re not there to hurt me. It doesn’t bother me at all," says Mr. Peterson-Roest, whose Detroit home is full of bee paraphernalia. Friends call him “the bee man."

One of his proudest achievements was securing space for his bees, which he affectionately calls his “girls," on the roof of Detroit’s massive convention center. Local business grants, individual donations, honey sales and service fees from beekeeping classes help his nonprofit pay for the bees. About 10,000 bees cost as much as $230, while miniature hives cost about $300 each.

“I feel very fortunate to have them," says Annie Hakim, co-owner of Featherstone Garden, a Detroit-based produce grower that sells vegetables, herbs and flowers to local residents and restaurants. She regards the bees as “co-workers" and says they have helped keep the garden healthy and productive.

Michigan has released guidance on proper beekeeping practices, but the state and city of Detroit have scant laws clearly regulating beekeeping.

Detroit’s director of animal control, Mark Kumpf, said the city hasn’t received complaints about hives. Still, the city is reviewing zoning ordinances to respond to the surge in managed hives.

“These are bees, they’re insects, and as long as you’re not a flower, you’re pretty safe unless you’re standing on the hive," Mr. Kumpf said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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