Time for Plan B, say opponents of NJ’s proposed beekeeping rules
Three laws enacted in 2015 to bolster the state’s growing number of beekeepers have instead led to proposed regulations that could leave small farmers and hobbyists as vulnerable as the honeybee colonies.
Lawmakers who sponsored the new laws say they’re willing to invalidate the proposed rules, depending on what changes to them are made by the Department of Agriculture, which is now reviewing more than 1,000 comments submitted by a January deadline.
Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, said the point of the 2015 laws was to provide "right to farm" protections to encourage beekeeping, which has grown to more than 3,000 beekeepers over the last decade, but that the rulemaking process got hijacked by opponents, making proposed conditions even more restrictive.
“Bees are not wasps,” Van Drew said. “And I know this sounds like an interesting subject to discuss with all that’s going on in the state of New Jersey right now, but they are important and they are not aggressive. And they generally are not hurtful.”
Janet Katz, president of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, says the goal of the new laws was fair rules that wouldn’t vary from town to town that would balance the interests of regular residents with those who wanted to house bee colonies in their yards or small farms.
Instead the proposed rules would bar hives on quarter-acre lots and otherwise limit them to two unless a lot is bigger than 5 acres – potentially ending the practice in many suburbs, unless waivers are secured.
“If a neighbor doesn’t like you because of the way you put out your garbage or a tree that you won’t take down on your property, they could just object without any validation and you can’t have your bees,” Katz said.
Jeff Tittel, of the Sierra Club, says hives would be banned in large parts of New Jersey under the rules, which he says favor large bee operators that take care of bigger farms.
“If this rule goes into effect, when it comes to fruits and flowers, the people of New Jersey are going to get stung,” Tittel said.
Van Drew says Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher told him at Gov. Phil Murphy’s inaugural last month that the proposal would likely be changed.
“We obviously need bees,” Van Drew said. “It’s very important for cross-pollination. It’s important for our farms. It’s important for all our plants. It’s a very essential part of our ecology.”
Katz said the proposed rules are going to be reviewed by a committee made up of four members of the State Board of Agriculture, though she said none have a beekeeping background. She said she doesn’t think the rules can be saved, even with significant revisions, and that the process should start over and focus more on science-based beekeeping.
“Unfortunately, the general public thinks that all stinging insects are bees. And that’s reflected in these proposed rules,” Katz said.
Katz said many of the planned restrictions stem from one particularly bad situation with a beekeeper in Peapack-Gladstone.