CITY HALL — Dead bees typically don’t get much sympathy.
For most humans, the buzzing, stinging creatures just don’t have the appeal that mammals like, say, bunny rabbits or whales do.
But for Santa Monica resident Daniel Salisbury, the insects are as deserving of fair treatment as any of the cuter species, not least of all because of their important role in the food chain, pollinating many of the crops that people eat.
With a worldwide and still unexplained phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder” threatening the bee population, Salisbury, an amateur beekeeper, says its high time for Santa Monica to a take kinder, gentler stance on bees.
Salisbury said the American Beekeeping Federation estimates about half of the honeybee colonies in California have been killed or severely weakened because of colony collapse disorder, making Santa Monica’s bee extermination policy all the more troubling.
“Right now, Santa Monica policy … is if they encounter a beehive or a bee swarm they immediately exterminate it,” he said.
His proposal, which calls for City Hall to lift its ban on beekeeping and set up a volunteer-staffed bee sanctuary, gained momentum this month when the Task Force on the Environment put its stamp of approval on the plan and recommended that the City Council take action.
If adopted, the plan would reverse Santa Monica’s policy of exterminating feral bees on city property when residents call to report bee swarms. Killing bees instead of transferring them to a safe haven where they can help plants spread their genes is a missed opportunity — and “goes directly against Santa Monica’s push toward sustainability and greater environmental responsibility,” he wrote in a four page report outlining his plan.
Salisbury also has a personal stake in his fight for better bee treatment. He started pushing City Hall to change its bee policy after officials shut down his backyard beekeeping operation last year.
The proposal that the task force approved March 15 doesn’t seek any City Hall funds, but it would require the City Council to set aside a 500 square-foot to 1,000 square-foot plot of land near the airport to become a temporary holding area for honeybees.
Volunteers from the Los Angeles County beekeeping community would respond to calls reporting swarms and would take the bees to the temporary yard inside the city limits. Later, the volunteers would transfer the bees to rural bee yards where they could resume their lives as useful pollinators.
“With the crisis of colony collapse disorder, it’s never been so important for all communities — urban and rural — to promote beekeeping,” Salisbury wrote.
A number of big cities around the country allow beekeeping, Salisbury said, including Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Portland and San Francisco.
Susan Mearns, a task force member, said she supported Salisbury’s proposal after learning about the severity of colony collapse disorder. Changing City Hall’s stance on beekeeping should be a no-brainer, she said.
“The city of Santa Monica prides itself on being a sustainable city and yet has an ordinance on the books that actually prohibits the sustainable culture of beekeeping and advocates destroying bee hives,” Mearns said.
The City Council hasn’t decided whether to take up the proposal.
Councilman Kevin McKeown, who acts as a liaison to the Task Force on the Environment, said he’s been working with Salisbury on the issue for the past year but is waiting for additional information from City Hall staff before deciding whether to place the proposal on a council agenda in coming months.
But, he said he’s on board with Salisbury’s concept.
“Capturing and relocating viable bee swarms into hives where they serve agriculture or just the pollination needs of wildflowers makes sustainable sense, as long as the collection doesn’t turn into a sting operation for innocent bystanders,” McKeown said.