Beekeeper baffled by Kitchener bylaw that calls bees 'pests'

Beekeeper Melissa Krone is baffled by the heavy-handed way a Kitchener city bylaw officer dealt with one of her backyard hives.

Amateur beekeeper Melissa Krone is baffled by what she says is the heavy-handed manner in which a Kitchener city bylaw officer dealt with one of her backyard hives.

Krone installed the honeybee hive in the backyard of a family friend, Joyce Brennan, in the early summer this year. But just over two weeks ago, on October 9th, Brennan got a letter from a city of Kitchener bylaw officer asking her to remove the hive, citing a regulation in the city's municipal code.

The letter said the beehive was a violation of the city's property standards bylaws, which require the "removal of injurious insects and other pests." If the hive wasn't removed by October 17, the letter stated city would issue an order to comply, which could result in the city moving the hive and charging the costs to Brennan's property taxes. 

"It was quite threatening in tone," said Krone of the letter, who said the it was the first indication that either she or Brennan had from the city that there was a problem with the hive. 

Krone took issue with the fact the city considers her bees pests, and the tight deadline to move the hive.  "I have no intention of keeping a hive where it's not wanted, I just wanted a reasonable time frame in which to move them,"she said. 

The letter was dated October 3, but Krone says the postmark shows it wasn't mailed until October 6th.

After receiving the letter on the 9th,  the Thursday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, Brennan told Krone about it. Brennan called the bylaw officer on the 9th to ask for more information and time to move the hive.

Krone also called the bylaw officer on October 10th. Neither heard from the officer until the officer left a message for Brennan mid-day on the 14th, and granting an extension to move the hive until October 24th

But the call came too late for Krone, who moved the hive that day. 

"I had to do it on my lunch break, so I did in the middle of the day when a lot of [the bees] would have been out foraging. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for me, it started to rain right as I was about to do it so I think a lot of them did come home, but I probably lost a couple hundred bees," said Krone. 

Krone isn't sure why the city took notice of her hive, though she suspects it could be a complaint from a neighbour. Krone says the hive was located in the back of the yard against the fence, and had set it up so that bees accessed the hive by flying over the top of some play equipment, a move that she says beekeepers use to protect people who live near the hives. 

City approaches bees cases individually

Krone started a petition, which had 195 digital signatures as of Friday, asking the city to reconsider classifying bees as pests. Her partner, Nik Harron, also tweeted the petition to the City of Kitchener, asking for consideration. 

"I just want a clarification in policy, you know? Because if anyone has the discretion to say that bees are a pest, I think that's very dangerous since our survival is dependant on them," says Krone.  

According to Shayne Turner, the city's head of bylaw enforcement, the city treats cases of bees on a property individually and in this case, the letter was intended as a first warning to the homeowner.

"Our approach is not necessarily to say that every bee situation or bee complaint is a problem, we assess it on its individual circumstances," said Turner. 

"It was basically a courtesy letter, a warning letter, she didn't issue an order, which would be the next step in the process, she just wanted to put the person on notice," said Turner of the letter sent to Brennan. In bylaw situations, the city issues a notice to comply first, and then an order to comply. If a homeowner fails to obey an order to comply, the city may take legal action, from fines or completing the desired work with a city crew and charging the homeowner. 

But both Brennan and Krone say they were intimidated by the tone of the letter.

"I have lived in Kitchener for over 30 years and, this being my first property standards notice, I took the city's threat seriously.  My interpretation was that if we did not meet the deadline, the city would remove the hive and bill us automatically on our tax assessment bill, which seemed to me like putting a lien on our property," wrote Brennan in an email. 

"That was really threatening for something that was intended as a courtesy letter," said Krone. 

Turner says the bylaw officer may not have been clear about the situation with Krone's beehive. 

"It was a circumstance where the officer may not have known the full situation, part of the challenge of course with bees is that it can attract other insects like wasps and that sort of stuff. I'm not saying it's an overreaction, but I think it may have been not fully understanding the circumstances," said Turner.  "In retrospect what we're saying is the letter was probably issued before the full picture was understood." 

When asked if the city might take a look at the bylaw, Turner didn't rule it out, but stressed he wanted to be cautious about changes to ensure bylaw officers could still enforce cases if they needed to. 

"I'm not ruling out the need to - or the future potential to change the bylaw, but I think before that happens there needs to be some dialogue with people that are more educated than I am in terms of beekeeping," said Turner. 

"But at the same time, I don't want to open it up to restrict us to not be able to deal with the situation when we need to." 

"I'm glad to know that the city is much more reasoned than this bylaw officer in particular was," said Krone.

"I would like to see people...make their decisions based on educated assessment, not just because they decide they're afraid," said Krone.