Almost everything you have ever been taught about bees really only applies to honeybees. So if your code mentions bees at all – and many don’t – it is probably talking about honeybees and beekeepers. The problem, though, is that protecting honeybees does not protect our endangered native North American bees. So here are five questions to ask in order to help your municipal code protect native bees.

1) How many hives are allowed? Where are they allowed?

The vast majority of our native bees are solitary; even those that form hives do not build large, perennial hives like honeybees do. In fact, a single honeybee hive can collect as much pollen as 100,000 native solitary bees. This is why you should consider limiting the number of hives in your municipality, particularly any located near natural areas. You may also want to set distances between hives to ensure there are not too many hives in a small area.

To control these factors, your town should consider requiring a permit in order to keep hives. The permit should require that any apiary (even of a single hive) must:

  • Be more than 4 miles away from known locations of protected pollinators or pollinators of special concern
  • Be at least 4 miles apart from other apiaries
  • Contain no more than 20 hives

2) Are beekeepers required to create habitat for native bees?

The best way to protect native bees is to create more nesting and foraging habitat for them. This means planting native species, particularly ones that your local pollen-specialist bees use (these are bees that can ONLY eat pollen from a specific genus or species). It also means providing bare earth, logs, and native plants with pithy stems for nesting. It can also be beneficial to remove invasive plant species, as these crowd out native plants.

Your beekeeping permit should therefore also require that:

3) Are beekeepers required to receive education on native bees and how they can support them?

Anyone interested in keeping honeybees should also be educated on native bees. An easy way to do this is to require a class on native bees in order to get a permit to keep honeybees. These can be done virtually – I can help – to make it easy for everyone. Be sure the information is presented by someone knowledgeable in pollinators and native bees, not just honeybees. Xerces Society has excellent resources, too.

4) Are protections for native bees prioritized?

It’s not enough to regulate beekeeping; you also need to protect native bee habitat. For instance, you can require that native plants species be 70% of landscaping in new developments. And that parks and greenspaces are at least 70% native plant species. You can make invasive plant removal a priority. You can commit to eliminating the use of pesticides on lawns. You can stipulate that some bare ground, logs, and stems be left for nesting habitat. You can require that municipal properties be landscaped with native plants.

5) Are public education efforts made to help your community learn and support native bees?

It’s not just beekeepers who need to learn about native bees. Your municipality can make it a priority to include information on native bees – and the native plants that support them – at community events. A simple booth at town festivals and farmers markets can go a long way towards motivating people to plant for native bees in their home gardens.

What’s does your municipal code say about native bees?

You can use your municipal code to protect native bees. By emphasizing the need for native plant species and nesting habitat, and by handling apiaries knowledgeably, your town can make a positive difference for all the native bees in your area.