During last year’s almond bloom, more than 2,000 hives were reported stolen from California orchards. Pollination is a key part of almond growing, and unfortunately, it is also a popular time for thieves to strike.
With average rental costs around $200 per hive, thieves see the pollination business as an opportunity to make some fast cash.
This year alone 482 hives were stolen from a Montana beekeeper. Lloyd Cunniff told the Great Falls Tribune thieves with flatbed trucks moved the hives from a site in Northern California on 122 pallets. He estimates the loss of more than $400,000 worth of bees. Cunniff suspects experienced thieves in this heist.
“It’s very organized, multiple trucks, multiple forklifts,” Cunniff, of Choteau, MT, told his local newspaper, the Choteau Acantha.
Another beekeeper not too far from where Cunniff’s hives were lifted had 240 hives stolen a few days before, he said.
Cunniff said he brought his hives to California to help pay back for the losses from colony collapse disorder that he suffered last year.
“That’s the only reason I came down to California, trying to make up for the money we lost last summer,” he told The Tribune. “We had such a short crop this summer that everything we had we brought down here. It’s a double-whammy.”
Cunniff suspects it will take him a few years to recover, and although he has theft insurance, he’s unsure how much of his loss will be covered. He says law enforcement continues to investigate the stolen hives reported last year and this year.
Lt. Dan Buttler of the Sutter County Sheriff’s Office told the Los Angeles Times hive thieves are sophisticated, and hives are difficult to track once stolen. Buttler says thieves tend to swap out pallets and remove any identifying markers – such as registration marks.
Although California beekeepers are required to mark their hives and include registration numbers, Buttler told The Times, Cunniff’s bees were listed in Montana.
Cunniff told The Acantha his hives were not marked permanently. The sheriff’s office says labels from Cunniff’s hives were torn off and thrown away along a dike that parallels the property his hives were last seen on.
The hives – pallets included – are brand new, double-deep 8 frame, with grey cedar lids. The hives are on new 4-way pallets sized 28.5 inches by 46 inches. The California State Beekeepers Association (CSBA) says this setup is fairly unusual.
What You Can Do
The Almond Board of California is encouraging growers to be diligent in helping police with missing hives. Look for brand numbers on the outside or inside of hive boxes. Check to make sure the numbers match with contracted beekeepers.
Growers should also think about hive placement within the orchards and what places are susceptible to thefts. Place hives where it is more difficult for a thief to quickly make off with them.
“Placing hives next to roads or with easy access for quick removal is not recommended. Controlling vehicle access to where the bees are located may also slow down crooks,” a release from the Almond Board of California encourages. “This can be done with gates across access roads and other vehicle barriers.”
Growers are encouraged to contact their local sheriff and California State Beekeepers Association if they suspect or have information about stolen hives at [email protected] or by phone at 209-545-5359.