Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bees In Winter: A Haiku

ball of bees cluster
around queen, snow insulates
insect body heat

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Legalize It

NYC Public Hearing on Bee Code

1999 had a lot going on, but most importantly, it was the year the honeybee, fuzzy little apis mellifera, was classified by Rudi Guiliani as an animal "naturally inclined to do harm," along with pit vipers and komodo dragons, and forbidden to be kept by anyone within city limits.

This past Wednesday, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (yes, Mental Hygiene... a whole other matter in itself...) held a public hearing to discuss City Council member David Yassky's bill to remove our buzzy buddy from the dreaded list included in Article 161 of the city's Health Code. This would make beekeeping legal in NYC as early as April. (Just in time for aspiring beekeepers to take the plunge!)

There were many honeybee supporters at the hearing, and not a naysayer in sight. Even the four members of the panel seemed pro-bee. (Or at least pro-local honey.) Arborists, activists, and bee lovers spoke passionately about the virtues of the honeybee. Of the bajillion points made about how rad bees are, the following ones stuck with me:

1. Most New Yorkers have heard of the Parks Department's Million Trees initiative, with its self-explanatory goal. (At this moment, they're at 315,678.) Said million trees begin their lives as million saplings outside city limits, where they're pollinated by million bees. Most of the initiative's trees are hardwood, a species that relies heavily on all kinds of bees for pollination. These trees need bees!

2. According to The Great Pollinator Project of 2009, bee watchers recorded a total of 226 species of bees in the city. 54 species were found in the Bronx, while 58 were found in Central Park alone, and 59 in Prospect Park! It's not like we live in a bee-free zone. The honeybee's illegality is arbitrary (226 species except apis mellifera??) and disadvantageous (no local honey, fewer flowers, less food grown within city limits, polluted air, etc.)

3. The legalization of beekeeping would create more "green jobs," including what one speaker referred to as "Bee Rangers" in public parks. Oh, how I'd love to be able to call myself a Bee Ranger! (Maybe I will, informally...)

4. Like so many New Yorkers, our trees are stressed out. The cure? You guessed it: BEES!

5. This past January 21, Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, a Philly native who discovered the concept of "bee space" and invented the hives in which my bees live, would have celebrated his 200th birthday. Happy Belated Birthday, Rev!

Since the public hearing was a seeming lovefest for bees, I'd say there's a pretty good chance this stupid law will be eradicated.

But Article 161 dictates the city's policies on all animals, and much more contentious than the bee code was the debate over carriage horses in the city's parks and streets, another piece up for reconsideration. Man, was that heated. A woman in the audience shouted "Shame on you!" during somebody's speech. Without going into detail, as I am unschooled in all things horses, I will say this: I do not think carriage horses should remain on 59th Street. Just two days before the hearing I was walking on Central Park South past all the horses, with their pastel-colored carriages equipped with blankets and drivers half-heartedly suggesting rides to suspected tourists, when I passed a beautiful white equine with a big, silly, blue feather sticking up above her head. The feather must have been intended to separate that particular horse from the rest, and served its purpose: the white horse looked even more miserable than the others, seemingly aware of her forced buffoonery. I felt the kind of shared embarrassment that one experiences watching unwitting participants on reality television, particularly the young children of abhorrent "characters" (or more aptly, "spectacles.") The blue-feathered horse reminded me of a scene in Follow That Bird in which Big Bird is captured, painted blue, and stuck in a cage at the circus. (I trust at least one of you will remember this reference.) Embarrassing costumes are the very least of the carriage horses' woes. For details on the horrible tragedies involving NYC carriage horses, and to support the ban on horse-drawn carriages in NYC, click here.

The final decision on bees will be made in March... come on, New York! We're practically the only city in the world to outlaw beekeeping! We want bees!

If you haven't already, sign Just Food's petition to legalize beekeeping in NYC.