I’m experiencing a wave of déjà vu.
Back in 2010, the city turned down a request from residents to study allowing backyard chicken coops (and chickens!) within city limits. Despite chickens being legal (within stated limitations) in several US cities, Canadian cities have balked at allowing residents to keep a small number of hens.
Today, Winnipeg city council’s protection and community services committee voted to review the bylaw that prevents residents from keeping honeybees within city limits. At least this time, the idea has gotten further than the chicken proposal did.
However, I’m feeling rather pessimistic about the whole thing. To being with, the NIMBYs (or rather, the NIMNBYs – Not In My Neighbours’ Backyards) are already crying. They (or their kid) are incredibly allergic to bee stings. They want to be able to continue to use their backyard without getting invaded by their neighbours’ bees. If their neighbours get bees, they’re getting a can of Raid… and so on.
These are very similar to the pre-emptive complaints leveled against the backyard chicken proposal. Unknowledgeable opponents alleged that chickens are loud, smelly and unsanitary. However, if they’d actually read the proposal, they would have seen that the limitations and regulations proposed along with the by-law change would have mitigated a lot of those concerns. The proposal to allow beekeeping has similar provisions, but I expect those provisions to get shoved aside as people who assume rather than research rant and rave their way to City Hall… And end up getting their way.
First, we’re talking about honeybees here, not wasps. The aggressive wasps that invade your backyard picnic in the late summer are not bees. Honeybees tend to keep to themselves, and only get angry if you pester them or mess with their hive. Honeybees are looking for nectar, not your burger. They will typically sting only as a last resort, because if they sting you they will die.
Wasps, specifically yellow jackets, on the other hand, are predators. They are after your burger because it tastes good to them. They are aggressive, and will sting with little provocation. They can also sting multiple times, since using their stinger will not kill them. Wikipedia has a nice table on the differences between different types of bees and wasps to make it even more clear. I think most of the fear of honeybees is actually misplaced fear of wasps. Wasps don’t produce honey, so no one will voluntarily be keeping those anyway!
Charles Polcyn, the president of the Red River Apiarist Association and the origin of the request to the city, also had several ideas that would make any urban beekeeper a better neighbour. These restrictions included certification of the beekeeper, fresh water located on the property for the bees, a minimum lot size of at least 50′ by 100′, and a six-foot barrier around the hives (such as a shrub), which would force the bees to fly up to look for nectar rather than through a neighbour’s yard.
Right now, chickens and bees are both included in Winnipeg’s Exotic Animal By-Law, even though they are hardly exotic. With some forethought and care, both can be just as good neighbours – if not better – than the neighbor with the large, loud, but perfectly legal dog… And put Winnipeg alongside cities that allow apiaries, such as Vancouver or Calgary.