, Salem, MA

The Nation

March 30, 2011

Proposal to tax Calif. beekeepers stirs up swarm


FRESNO, Calif. —

Still, colony collapse disorder persists, and its presence is particularly alarming in California, which attracts beekeepers from all over the nation every spring for almond pollination. The almond crop has increased steadily over the past 15 years, and California's beekeepers can supply only about a third of the estimated 1.5 million colonies now needed.

The thousands of out-of-state hives brought in temporarily create an enormous potential for spreading disease rapidly around the nation.

But money for bee health research has been tight, said Frank Pendell, president of the California State Beekeepers Association. Despite promises, Congress has appropriated little money for it. A few other private groups are investing in it, and Pendell's group collected about $50,000 last year through auctions and donations, most of it coming from about 20 percent of the state's beekeepers.

At the association's request, California lawmakers authorized the creation of a research commission last year, subject to a vote by the beekeepers.

Supporters say the commission and its tax would provide a dependable source of money for research and make the industry less dependent on government funds. It could raise about $500,000 initially if the assessment was set at 50 cents per hive, Pendell said. The research would benefit beekeepers nationwide.

"We're trying to make this as fair as possible to everyone, and spread the burden around the industry," Pendell said.

But many beekeepers bristle at the idea. Some can't afford a new tax, and others prefer to decide themselves which research to support instead of letting a commission choose, Camarillo beekeeper Larry Pender said.

"Our industry is on edge," said Pender, who lost 60 percent of his colonies, or about 1,000 hives, in December. "We do need the research, but it's hard to put the money out when it's not in your pocket."

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