Collier, Lee bee removal experts feel sting of new state rule requiring licensing

David Albers/Staff 
 - David Johnson, of Johnson Honey Farms and Bee Removal Service, prepares to transfer honey combs from a bee hive established in a water meter box into a bee box at a home on Antigua Court on Marco Island on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - David Johnson, of Johnson Honey Farms and Bee Removal Service, prepares to transfer honey combs from a bee hive established in a water meter box into a bee box at a home on Antigua Court on Marco Island on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012.

— Beekeeper David Johnson's bare hands worked slowly as he picked apart a honeycomb crawling with bees he had pulled out of a water meter box on Marco Island.

"Let's see if they'll be nice," Johnson, 47, said as he crouched over the box buried in a front yard on Antigua Court. "Most of the time they're nice."

Bees — he calls them girls — crawled on his hands and up his arms, but Johnson stayed calm and focused as he shook the quietly buzzing bees into a wooden box and tied pieces of the honeycomb into frames inside the box. He planned to give the bees to a friend getting started in beekeeping.

Johnson came out of the job without a sting, but he and other beekeepers have felt bitten lately by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

This summer, the agency's Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control Chief Michael Page issued a new interpretation of Florida's pest control law that meant bee removal now must be regulated as pest control.

The finding threw into limbo what had been a longstanding deal beekeepers had struck with Florida that created an unlicensed live bee removal industry; it also raised fears that the work would go instead to exterminators who would kill the important pollinators rather than save them.

Last week, agency representatives traveled to Fort Myers to meet with about 20 beekeepers and pest control operators at the University of Florida agricultural extension office to start hashing out new rules to keep beekeepers in the live bee removal business without running afoul of state law. Groups participated by video conference from Jacksonville, Palm Beach and Santa Rosa County in the Florida Panhandle.

"They opened up a much bigger can of worms than they thought they had," said Lee County beekeeper and bee remover Keith Councell, who is vice president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association.

Pest control operators say the new bee removal rules shouldn't cross the line into pest control without requiring beekeepers to meet the same certifications as pest control operators.

"We're willing to work with (the state agriculture department) and with the beekeeping profession to consider all avenues to protect pollinator populations," said Alan Fugler, executive vice president of the Florida Pest Management Association.

A consensus developed at last week's meeting that beekeepers removing established bee hives would have to have a so-called "limited certification." Removing bee swarms, which have yet to set up a hive and are thought to be less dangerous, wouldn't be regulated.

Bee removers would have to be registered beekeepers, submit an apiary inspection report to prove they are active and in good standing, take an exam, earn continuing education credits each year and carry liability insurance.

The group couldn't agree on the number of hours of training that a beekeeper would have to undergo and got stuck on whether beekeepers not allowed to apply pesticides would be able to control hives that sometimes explode with mean bees that put entire neighborhoods in a sting danger zone.

"The safety of Florida's citizens is put at increased risk," said Richard Martyniak, an entomologist with, who favored requiring bee removers to become full-fledged pest control operators.

Page, the pest control bureau chief, said he hopes to have a bill in front of the state Legislature in the spring and a new certification law in effect July 1, 2013.

"We can move this ball forward without too much trouble," Page said.

Johnson, the bee remover, said he would rather the state stay out of his business.

He started beekeeping on his father's honey farm when he was 16 and growing up in North Miami. He moved to Collier County in 1992 but works as a firefighter in Coral Gables.

Johnson said he doesn't have time to go back to school, and doesn't need to anyway.

He just wants to be left alone to keep saving bees.

"I don't like to kill bees," Johnson said. "I'm weird."

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.