A growing trend threatens beekeepers and their bees. As if bees don’t already have enough problems to contend with, thieves have set their sights on the honeybee industry.

In the USA, the pollination business has been booming, especially in California’s almond industry areas.

Mike Potts owns a valuable commodity: bees. His company, Pottsy’s Pollination in Oregon, drove 400 hives down to California on trucks for pollination work. He parked them in a holding area near Yuba City. A few days later he returned to find 92 hives, worth about $44,000 to him, had been stolen.

These thefts are on the rise and often happen in the dark of night. Trucks and forklifts are used in a premeditated and organized heist. This is becoming such a problem in California that police officers are being assigned to hive crimes.

This 1:55 minute video shows the destruction after thieves destroy hives:

One “bee theft detective” says hive theft has been on the upswing for nearly eight years. In 2015 just 101 hives were stolen compared to 1,695 in 2016.

The hub of these heists is the fertile Central Valley area in California, where one quarter of all US-grown produce originates, and therefore there is a huge requirement for pollination services. The crown jewel crop is almonds. The more than 1 million acres of almonds requires 2 million beehives of honeybees for pollination every February when almond trees blossom. This industry has made honeybees more valuable as pollinators than as honey producers.

Beekeepers lose about 40% of their bee colonies every winter, due to pesticides, mites and disease. They scramble to boost their bee count to maximize profits in almond season. Hazards have caused the cost of a hive rental to rise from $35 to $200 and more, making bee pollination a big business.

Lloyd Cunniff, a 59-year old third-generation beekeeper in Montana, didn’t plan to truck his bees to Central Valley but his hives were decimated by colony collapse disorder, so he needed money. He trucked 488 hives down and left them to rest in a remote area. When he returned the next day, they were all gone. The loss cost Cunniff his livelihood and the $100,000 he would have earned in pollination fees. As it turned out, he was just one of many victims of a professional operation.

Police were called to a field near Fresno a short time later, where they found destroyed beehives scattered randomly and a furious swarm of bees flying around the broken boxes.

This video is 6:14-minutes long and well worth watching:

Police and beekeepers estimate 2,500 hives belonging to various legal owners were present. Pavel Tveretinov was arrested as well as Vitaliy Yeroshenko. They face trial. Thefts declined after these arrests but beekeepers fear that the demand for honeybees will bring more thieves out of the woodwork.

In other bee theft news…

In Galt, California, 36 olive-green hives worth over $12,000 were stolen. Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact Don Stuhmer at (209) 361-9798 or the Rural Crime Task Force at (209) 468-4425, fax (209) 468-4380.

In Northglenn, Colorado, 30 hives with a total of 30,000 bees were stolen from Karl’s Farm Dairy. Thankfully they were returned to their beekeeper, although some did not survive. The property was for sale, so someone thought they could take the bees. The bees and their hives, valued at $15,000, were posted on Craigslist for over $600. The conscientious beekeeper who bought them saw news reports and contacted police about the sale.

At Queen Creek in Pinal County, Arizona, 56 hives worth $50,000 were stolen from a honey company, but social media helped track down the thieves. Father and son, George Brenner III and George Brenner IV, have owned and run Valley Honey Company for over a decade. Beekeeping is their livelihood, from honey sales and pollinating almonds in California. When thousands of bees were stolen, they were suspicious that it was someone who knew a lot about their property. It was one of three hive heists in the area, for a total of $100,000. When they told their online community what happened, tips led them to Wickenburg. The son went there and found other beekeepers chiseling off their hive brand. He shot video and called in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies. There is an ongoing investigation.       

In Yolo County, California thousands of bees were killed after hives were set on fire. At least 18 hives at Wildwood Orchards were destroyed. Several almond trees were also scorched during this most important time when bees pollinate almond trees. Beekeepers are assessing whether hives close to the fires were also damaged.

It is heartbreaking that bees have become such a hot commodity to thieves that they can become traumatized victims of kidnapping, displacement and organized crime. Please help raise awareness about this little known crime so we can help Save The Bees together.