Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

To bee or not to bee?

City reviewing bylaw, could allow homeowners to have apiaries

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Winnipeg is abuzz with the prospect of potentially allowing residents to keep beehives in their backyard.

On Monday, council's protection and community services committee voted in favour of reviewing the city's exotic animal bylaw to see if Winnipeg should allow urban beekeeping.

Beekeeping is restricted under the exotic animal bylaw, which does not allow residents to keep animals such as venomous snakes, monkeys, sheep, horses or other species that could be a nuisance in the city.

Apiaries are not allowed in commercial or residential neighbourhoods, and bees can only be housed on urban areas zoned for agriculture, such as the University of Manitoba agricultural research field.

Protection and community services chairwoman Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she supports the idea and thinks urban beekeeping would be a great way to educate people about where their food comes from. Havixbeck said she used to consult on agricultural issues before she was elected, and beekeeping is a good way to incorporate agriculture into the city.

Manitoba beekeepers have said in recent years they've lost about 30 per cent of their bees every year, in part due to a parasitic pest and bees' weakened immune systems. Bees help pollinate everything from blueberries and canola crops to backyard gardens and flowers.

"The city has a role in food policy as well," Havixbeck said, noting she would try to keep bees if the idea is approved. "I think it's a great learning opportunity."

Charles Polcyn, president of the Red River Apiarist Association, told the committee urban beekeeping would help Winnipeggers grow more -- and better-quality -- food in their gardens. Polcyn said concerns about swarms of bees can be addressed by ensuring bees have enough space in the hive.

Polcyn said bees do not swarm unless the population of the hive has exploded and part of the hive leaves to look for a new home. He said fewer than one per cent of the population is allergic to bees, and unlike other insects -- such as wasps and hornets -- bees will not sting unless they are provoked.

"We're always asked the question -- where are the bees?" he said. "Well, a part of it is there aren't as many of them around anymore."

Hobby beekeeper Christopher Kirouac, who kept a couple of hives in Wolseley last summer, said Winnipeg could follow the example of cities such as Vancouver and New York that permit urban beekeeping. He suggested Winnipeg could develop "beware of bees" signage that alerts residents there are bees on site.

Kirouac said his neighbours did not notice his bees last year, but did notice the impact they had on their gardens.

"The bees did exceptionally well in the city," he said.

Animal services COO Leland Gordon said the city has not received a complaint about beekeeping since 2007, when one person complained to the city.

A full report is expected to be complete in September.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2012 B1

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