Who would steal a box of stinging insects?
The recent theft of three beehives from a Southwest Side park has a local beekeeper wondering if the bee-stealing trend hitting other parts of the country has come to Chicago.
Jana Kinsman maintains 32 hives in community gardens on the South and West Sides, biking between them as she tends to the bees in a project she calls Bike a Bee. Earlier this spring, Kinsman started three hives in the McKinley Park Community Garden with another beekeeper and he called her May 10 to let her know they were gone.
“I never thought this would happen in an urban environment because bees are something no one would mess with,” Kinsman said.
Stealing a hive, which could be home to thousands and thousands of bees, is no small feat, Kinsman added.
“To steal a beehive you have to — if you want to do it the right way — you have to do it at night when most of the bees are home, you need to close up the entrances,” Kinsman said. “Whoever stole the hive understands the value of bees.”
Steve Chard, supervisor of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Division of Natural Resources, which keeps a registry of all beekeepers in the state, said he hadn’t heard of any other cases of theft in Illinois.
But hive theft is relatively common in states such as California, due to the high demand for hives to pollinate almond trees, according to Gene Brandi, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. The federation offers a reward for any information on bee thieves who steal from their members.
“It’s like cattle rustlers, people who know about bees that steal them are like bee rustlers,” Brandi said. “Generally, bee thieves are people who know about bees and know how to handle bees.”
Brandi said honey is at its highest price ever due in a large part to a national decline in the number of bees.
“[Honey] production is not what it used to be. We’re likely to produce 150 million pounds a year, still far below the average,” he said.
Besides making honey, honeybees play an integral role in farming, pollinating everything from almonds to apples to broccoli, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. But harsh winters and a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder routinely kill off colonies kept by commercial beekeepers and hobbyists alike.
Illinois was hit particularly hard last year, according to new data from the Bee Informed research partnership. About 62 percent of the bee colonies in Illinois died over the past year, the second-highest statewide loss in the country.
Overall, 42.1 percent of the nation’s hives were lost over the past year, according to Bee Informed.
“With the decline in honeybees, it’s becoming more and more expensive to start new hives,” Kinsman said.
She puts any money she makes from selling the bees’ honey back into the project, she said, so she raised money on GoFundMe to replace the missing hives. So far, she’s raised $1,430, more than double the $600 she sought.
But Kinsman won’t be putting the hives in unfenced gardens anymore, she said.
“Now I kind of feel like a target.”