Find of the Month

June 2015 - Bees in the city

In August 1953, Robert Chase wrote to City Council with a complaint about his neighbor’s beehives. “The bees sting my children while playing in the lawn, sting my wife while hanging up clothes, sting the baby in the crib.” He said he had talked to various authorities and discovered that the city “has no laws on the books prohibiting bee-keeping in the city altho they have laws on other farm animals and insects pertaining to quantity – how kept etc.” He asked that legislation be passed to regulate beekeeping.

The chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee asked the King County Humane Society for the Defenseless to investigate. The society’s manager found five hives on the neighbor’s property and declared his opinion that five hives on a lot that size “constitutes a definite hazzard [sic] to the children and the neighborhood.” He also noted that around 150-200 pounds of honey was likely being produced, creating bad feelings among the neighbors because the owner was making a profit from the source of their annoyance.

He recommended that if City Council wished to pass an ordinance, bees should simply be added to the category of regulated animals and the Poundmaster be given permitting and enforcement power. Meanwhile he said the Society would encourage the owner to move all but one of the hives off the property “for the building of a better feeling of good will among his neighbors.”

The Public Safety Committee then asked the Director of Public Health, S.P. Lehman, to look into the matter and respond to the Humane Society’s report. Lehman questioned the advisability of legislation, saying that the number of hives appropriate for a lot would vary widely depending on lot size. Given the low number of bee-related complaints, and the state Bee Inspector’s concerns that reducing the number of bees would “interfere with proper pollinization of fruit trees,” Lehman suggested that no legislative action be taken at that time. He recommended that Chase contact the Health Department’s sanitation division for assistance if he needed it.

Chase protested the lack of action toward legislation, and complaints similar to his trickled in over the ensuing years. A 1972 ordinance regulating beekeeping appears to have been the first city legislation specifically addressing the issue, almost 20 years after Chase’s complaint.