There’s no disputing the value bees hold in food production. This is why California has launched BeeWhere, an online tool to help improve communication among growers, pesticide applicators, beekeepers, and other agricultural personnel in order to safeguard hives that are out in the field.
“[We] hope BeeWhere will accomplish the notification of all beekeepers when a product will be sprayed in the environment that could be potentially detrimental to the honey bees,” says Karine Pouliquen, M.A., Head Beekeeper under the Orange County Master Gardener Program located at the University of California South Coast Research and Extension Center.
That’s exactly what the program is setting out to do.
What Is It?
BeeWhere is an online method of tracking the locations of hives across California that uses real-time GIS mapping. At any given time, a county can know how many registered hives are within its boundaries. It also allows for pesticide applicators to know if there are hives within a one-mile radius of a pesticide application and to whom they belong. Seasons like almond bloom kick off a very active bee season, with many colonies brought in from other states, and beekeepers can mark hive locations by using a pin drop in the mobile app.
This initiative is collaboratively supported by the Almond Board of California, California State Beekeepers Association, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and a number of other companies and organizations.
How It Works: Beekeepers
Beekeepers have to create a BeeWhere user account and are required to register their hives in the state of California, whether they are from California or out-of-state beekeepers that provide bees during specific seasons. There is an annual $10 registration fee per beekeeper, regardless of the number of hives, and as of this writing must be done in-person through the local county agricultural commissioner’s office of the home county in which the bees are placed. (Online payment options will become available in the future.) Other counties can also be selected if beekeepers are working across multiple counties. The home county will validate the additional county selections.
From there, beekeepers will provide contact information and select their preferred methods of notification, be it by phone, email, or fax, along with preferred contact times. Because the program understands the importance of privacy amongst beekeepers, registered hive locations are kept securely within the California Agricultural Commissioner’s CalAgPermits system. Beekeepers can update hive locations if hives are moved, as well as number of hives in a colony. This lets applicators and PCAs know that there are bees in the area, and that they need to submit a bee clearance to the county. Only pesticide applicators are able to see the contact information for beekeepers.
Each individual county can only see the hives that are pinned in that specific county. Beekeepers cannot see the locations of other beekeepers’ hive locations. Pest control advisors (PCA) and others with access to the system are only able to see if there are bees within a one-mile radius of a particular site.
How It Works: Pesticide Applicators
Much like beekeepers, pesticide applicators will have to register a new BeeWhere account, unless they have a CalAg permit, as CalAg permit logins can be used to access BeeWhere. The home county will validate this information. Applicators can use an interactive map, and are provided the most information on the site, including the total number of colonies in the one-mile radius, the beekeeper’s name, business name, contact information, the number of colonies per individual beekeeper in that designated mile, and the methods in which the beekeepers wish to be notified.
Even when applicators submit their bee clearances, they must still notify beekeepers as per notification instructions supplied by the beekeeper.
How It Works: PCAs, Pest Control Businesses, and Other Third Parties
Much like above, CalAg permit login information will grant access to BeeWhere, as will signing up for a new user account. Proper validation will allow access to the website, but the information available to PCAs and other pest control-related parties will be much more limited. For one, beekeeper contact information will be unavailable. The interactive map is also available for these parties, however, it will only disclose the number of colonies within a one-mile radius of an application site.
The Return of Statewide Identification
Unfortunately, there has been an increase in bee theft. Less identifiable frames have become a target for thieves.
“It’s very sad to see this kind of behavior happening,” says Pouliquen. “It jeopardizes people’s livelihoods.”
In an attempt to protect livelihoods, property, and curb theft, California is urging beekeepers to get their state-issued beekeeper identification number, and to permanently mark all hives, frames, and other identifiable tools and materials. (This is also recommended for growers and their equipment.)
Being a Good Neighbor
Some beekeepers are happy that BeeWhere is being put into place. “It could prevent a lot of bees’ deaths associated with spraying,” says Pouliquen. Other beekeepers, however, prefer more anonymity. “Especially hobbyists, for some reason they don’t want to disclose where their hives are located.”
Additionally, the combination of a new program, alongside new technology, can be exciting for some industry professionals, but intimidating for others.
But growers, applicators, and beekeepers must work together for this system to work effectively and successfully for all parties involved. There have been complaints against aerial applicators who submitted bee clearances, but never actually notified beekeepers, and exposed hives to extremely toxic pesticides. There have also been complaints against beekeepers for not moving out of an area at the declaration of petal fall, thus causing applicators to delay spraying for fear of harming bees they can clearly see are still in an orchard. This has also happened for unregistered hives that also have no contact information listed anywhere on them. In these cases, notices will be posted on the hives themselves, and growers will be contacted to find out who owns the bees currently located on their property.
Registering with BeeWhere can help to eliminate some of these problems.
Following county and local beekeeping ordinances will also alleviate any potential complications with growers. There are distance requirements from schools, residences, and other sensitive areas, as well as rights of way. Some counties, like Tulare County, for example, have inspectors with assigned sections of the county, who make sure the hives are in the correct locations and meeting proper criteria.
What BeeWhere Does Not Do
Probably the most significant thing BeeWhere does not do is notify beekeepers on behalf of applicators. Even though applicators can see how many colonies are in an area and the names and contact information for the beekeepers with hives there, applicators themselves will have to contact each beekeeper to notify them of planned pesticide usage. Depending on what the beekeeper has set for preferred contact methods, this could be as involved as getting someone on the telephone, or as simple as sending an email. Requesting bee clearances and filing required paperwork is not enough without properly notifying beekeepers.
For more information, visit BeeWhereCalifornia.com.