Beekeepers deploy GPS tracking to thwart hive thieves

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WOODLAND, Calif. – For a frantic few weeks, beekeepers from across the United States are ferrying billions of bees to California to rent them to almond growers who need the insects to pollinate the state’s most valuable crop. .

But as the almond trees begin to bloom, blanketing entire valleys in white and pink blossoms, begin the hive thefts that have become so prevalent that beekeepers are now turning to GPS tracking devices, surveillance cameras and other anti-theft technologies to protect valuable colonies.

In recent weeks, 1,036 beehives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have been stolen from orchards in California, authorities said.

“It’s hard to express what it feels like to take care of your hives all year long only to have them stolen,” Claire Tauzer wrote on Facebook to publicize the award.

A day later, an anonymous informant led authorities to recover most of the boxes and a forklift stolen from Tauzer’s family business about 55 miles away on a rural property in Yolo County. A suspect has been arrested.

Investigators also found frames, those used to hold the honeycomb, belonging to Helio Medina, another beekeeper who lost 282 hives a year ago.

Medina said the theft devastated his apiary, so this year he placed GPS trackers inside the boxes. He also tied anti-theft cables around them and installed cameras nearby. As the almond blossoms approached and the beehives became more valuable, he drove on patrol through the orchards in the dark.

“We have to do what we can to protect ourselves. No one can help us,” Medina said.

Demand for bees has steadily increased over the past 20 years, as the popularity of this healthy, crunchy nut has made California the largest almond producer in the world. As a result, the area of ​​land used for growing almonds has more than doubled to about 1.3 million acres.

This year, a survey of commercial beekeepers estimated that it would take 90% of bee colonies in the United States to pollinate all almond orchards.

“That means beekeepers are coming from as far away as New York and Florida, and to get them here, pollinator costs have to go up,” said Brittney Goodrich, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. .

Rowdy Jay Freeman, a Butte County sheriff’s detective who has been monitoring the thefts since 2013, turned to charge the bee robbers with felony cattle rustling.

Under California law, theft of property worth $950 or less is classified as a misdemeanor. But stealing any agricultural product worth at least $250 is considered a crime.

“Stealing one or 10 or 100 hives would result in the same charge,” he said.

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