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When February rolls around, so do beehive thefts in California, costing thousands every year

By Jason Marks

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    CALIFORNIA (KCRA) — Every February there is an uptick in crime, but not the type most people think about. In rural parts of California, thousands of dollars are lost because of beehive thefts.

Rowdy Freeman is a deputy with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office. At an agricultural part of the north Chico area, he pointed out the orchards where thieves with sticky fingers seek out the source of honey.

“This is the hot time of the year when beehives are stolen,” Freeman said.

Ten years ago, Freeman worked his first beehive theft case. He has since become California’s bee expert when it comes to stolen hives, helping law enforcement throughout the state.

Despite being an expert, he still describes beehive theft as a “pretty difficult case to investigate.” The reasons being are that there is typically not a lot of evidence, not a lot of information and not a lot of help from the public because no one ever sees the thefts as they happen.

In the last decade alone, Freeman said more than 10,000 hives totaling $3.5 million were stolen.

“I explain it as being the perfect crime,” Freeman said. “It’s beekeepers stealing from other beekeepers. In order to steal bees, you have to know what you are doing, and you have to have the right equipment. The only people that do that are people that have been in the industry or worked for another beekeeper.”

Last year, hive theft was up nearly 80% from the year before. Freeman said that amounted to 2,300 stolen hives, and the cost can add up quickly. The face value of each hive is $350 and because bees are considered livestock, it is a felony to take them.

Trent Tsutsui is a beekeeper at Tauzer Apiaries in Yolo County and is well aware of how rampant beehive thefts are.

“I hear about it every year,” Tsutsui said. “I either see it on Facebook or my boss tells us about it.”

As a beekeeper, bee stings are just a part of the job, but the real pain comes for him when hives are stolen, which hits the family-run business hard.

“We make our income by renting our hives to farmers that need pollination services,” said Trevor Tauzer of Tauzer Apiaries. “We place bees out on their land and that helps them produce food.”

There are more than a million and a half almond acres in California, and Tauzer said those trees are heavily reliant on honeybee pollination to grow.

In general, there is a demand across the country for bees. Tauzer said that’s also what makes them prime targets for people desperate to find healthy hives, steal them and make their own money.

Tauzer has 40,000 hives that his employees care for year-round. Each hive can contain 60,000 bees.

“When somebody goes and takes them, they aren’t only stealing the value of that hive at the time, but they are stealing from the farmer who needs the pollination to be done and they are stealing from all of our last year’s work keeping those bees healthy,” Tauzer said.

What also stings is knowing that those responsible also know a little something about bees.

This season hasn’t been immune to the theft. According to the California State Beekeepers Association, more than 900 hives have been stolen this year at a value of more than $300,000.

Beekeepers have gone as far as putting GPS tracking devices in hives to try to stop the theft.

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