Scottsdale commissioner opens up about bee experience that prompted new advocacy effort

Posted 10/14/21

Farmers love them because they provide agricultural pollination, they produce more than $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year, and every third bite of food taken is in thanks to: …

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Scottsdale commissioner opens up about bee experience that prompted new advocacy effort


Farmers love them because they provide agricultural pollination, they produce more than $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year, and every third bite of food taken is in thanks to: bees.

Understanding what bees provide to our ecosystem and how to promote bee and colony health while promoting human health is on Scottsdale’s agenda.

“I was sitting at the kitchen table in my house on a Saturday afternoon with my wife and she looked over my shoulder into the backyard and said, ‘Wow!’ and it was like a cloud of bees in the backyard. So obviously that’s a little worrisome, right? And it seemed like they were swarming around a sage that we have in the back. It’s probably 4 or 5 feet tall,” said Ryan Johnson, commissioner of the Scottsdale Environmental Advisory Commission.

Johnson is also an executive director of professional and executive education at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

When researching how best to handle the swarm on his sage tree in his backyard, Johnson’s Google search results were filled with pest removal and extermination services, but it was harder to find a true beekeeper who promised to keep the bees alive.

Johnson’s experience prompted him to draft a letter with the other commissioners to Scottsdale’s mayor and city council proposing that Scottsdale become a part of the Bee City USA network. It was approved by a six-vote majority without amendments or edits at the commission’s Sept. 22, and it now awaits final approval.

“In 2020, Scottsdale became a butterfly city, so I said well if we’re going to be a monarch city, why not be a bee city?” said Johnson.

A female bee pollinates a flower near Papago Park. (Special to the Independent/Anézia Marques)

The Bee City USA program has specific guidelines that the city must follow along with a resolution that must be filled out as part of the application process. Cities must renew their status each year provided that the commitments agreed to prior were upheld, according to the program’s website.

“I did a little more research and figured out that there are no other cities in Arizona yet that are Bee City USA-designated so we would be the first to do it,” said Johnson.

The main concern surrounding bees is human health, which includes the concern for getting stung, especially for those who have allergies. Getting stung by one bee can attract more from the active colony, and it can lead to death if the person is stung repeatedly.

Bees only sting if they feel threatened, which includes being swatted at or disturbed, so understanding their defense mechanism is important when trying to avoid a dangerous situation.

One distinction that must be made is the difference between a swarm of bees and a hive. A bee swarm refers to a natural behavior that occurs when a colony splits as the old queen is replaced and they have no hive which serves as their home. They “swarm” around the queen and hold onto each other’s arms and legs, according to the bee health website from Bayer.

Beekeepers always make this distinction when called for removals because they will approach the situation accordingly.

“The two different kinds of removal is you have a swarm removal or a hive removal. Now a swarm is just a mass of bees; they have no hive, no honeycomb build, and they’re the least aggressive. A hive is when they have the honeycomb, the babies and the brood comb and they’re a little more aggressive because they have something to defend,” said Derek Abello on Off The Grid News Radio show.

Abello is a local beekeeper who serves all of Maricopa County. On his website, he dispels the myths typically heard from pest removal services who don’t always safely remove and relocate swarms or hives.

The Beekeeper Total Bee Control Inc. provides both live bee removal services and bee extermination services. According to company employee Jerry Keele, extermination services are provided “when the homeowner doesn’t want to pay to have their wall or roof opened up to get the hive out.”

Cost is a big factor when a homeowner chooses a removal service. While prices vary from company to company based on each individual situation, properly removing a swarm or hive from a home can be tricky, which raises the cost of the service.

The company does exterminations around 40% of the time, according to Keele.

“Anything that we can actually see or access, we always do a live removal on it,” said Keele.

Traditional beekeepers will however remove bees stuck between walls and in roofs, but be aware of higher costs. A beekeeper will never use pesticides on a swarm or comb, but pest removal services may. Make the pest company aware that a safe bee removal is preferred and pesticides or other methods of extermination will not be used.

For more information and tips on keeping oneself safe and distinguishing a wasp from a bee can be found on the City of Scottsdale website and by calling your local fire department.

Editor’s Note: Anézia Marques is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.


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