Bill adds bees to list of public nuisances

PHOENIX - Feral honeybee hives that form in random places like trees and abandoned houses could soon be less of a problem for residents as counties take responsibility for having the hives removed.

Last week, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed into law a bill that adds wild honeybees to the list of public nuisances because they endanger public health.

This means county officials can order a property owner to have a bee swarm removed at the owner's cost. If the bee swarm is located on public lands, the county will pay for the exterminator. No county currently has the authority to enforce wild bee removal.

All wild bees are considered Africanized, which means they are more defensive and therefore more likely to attack than European bees.

What to do in case of a bee attack:
? Run away from the bees.
? Cover your head, as bees always go for the head first.
? Find a hideout such as a home or a car. Some bees will come with you, but they only sting once.
? Take a shower before heading outside again. Bees leave an odor on you when they sting, and remaining bees can smell it and will attack again.
? Don't jump into water, as the bees will wait until you resurface.
? For more information, call the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Courtesy of Ann-Marie Krueger,
education and community relations director
at Banner Poison Control Center

""This is a threat to human safety, and if there are hives and no one has the authority to remove them, someone walking down the street could be attacked,"" said sponsor Rep. Jennifer Burns, R-Tucson. ""We have been infiltrated with Africanized bees.""

House Bill 2306 was crafted after two people died from bee attacks in Cochise County, Burns said.

Africanized bees entered the state in 1993 after coming to Texas from Brazil, said Dave Langston, a retired UA entomologist who focused much of his research on Africanized bees.

These bees make honey and look the same as their European counterparts, Langston said.

But Africanized bees swarm up to six times a year, constantly looking for a better place to live, while European bees only swarm about once a year.

Bees are drawn to flowers and are most active in the moist areas of the state. That's why they're often spotted in populated areas with irrigated yards and golf courses, Langston said.

Africanized bees don't always attack humans but become most dangerous when they settle and build a hive and start defending their home, he said.

""If you encounter bees, run away from them,"" he said.

All victims or witnesses of bee attacks should call 911 immediately, said Ann-Marie Krueger, education and community relations director at Banner Poison Control Center in Maricopa County.

""Once they start attacking, they all will attack,"" Krueger said. ""They're one of the only venomous animals in the state of Arizona that are aggressive.""

It is difficult to determine how many people have been attacked and died from bee attacks, she said, because people call different places to report an attack, and there is no general database in the state.

The center, which informs people about how to prevent and fend off bee attacks, received 830 calls of wasp, hornet and bee incidences in 2006.

But the numbers are imprecise because they don't indicate the outcome and scope of each case, Krueger said.

Burns said that while she seeks to protect the public with her bill, she also wants to make sure the measure would not harm any of the roughly 300 beekeepers in the state. That's why it only applies to colonies that are not maintained by a beekeeper.

The Arizona Department of Agriculture worked with several beekeepers to make sure they don't have concerns about the bill, said Ed Hermes, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Agriculture.


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