Some of the hardest working insects in the world may also be the most intimidating, but that did not stop El Paso Water from saving a bee colony containing tens of thousands of honeybees.
Bees, also known as pollinators, contribute to about 35 percent of the world’s food crops that are produced. The bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops each year, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Demolition was scheduled this month for a vacant building located on EPWater property that will soon house a new utility maintenance shop on Fred Wilson Drive. It did not take long for employees to notice the large number of bees swarming the top corner of the empty building.
“When we discovered the honeybee colony, we knew extermination was not an option,” said Laura Foster, Technical Services Architect. “Our decision was part of our sound environmental and economic stewardship because we know bees are not just helpful to wild plants, flowers and trees; we need honeybees for productive food crops.”
EPWater does not specialize in bee colony relocation, and a local beekeeper was called in to ensure the process was done safely. Josh Meier, President of the Paseo Del Norte Beekeeper Association, started by assessing the building.
“We use thermal imaging technology to determine the size of the colony and how it is positioned, in this case, within the building,” Meier said.
Meier used a diamond blade to cut through the exterior stucco wall to get to the colony that was tucked in between a cavity of the building. A bee smoker, a stainless steel can with a spout and filled with burning pine needles was used to keep the bees relatively calm.
“The bees’ natural response to smoke causes them to prepare to leave the colony,” Meier said.
Due to the size of the colony, Meier estimated the colony had been there for several years and noted there was evidence of a previous colony in the same area.
“We took 80,000 to 100,000 bees out of there and about 60 pounds of honey from the colony.”
A bee colony relocation is typically a safe procedure, but there are some cases in which bees can become aggressive. “It was a big enough colony that we really needed to preserve it,” said Meier.
The most important step is to take the honeycomb where the queen bee lays her eggs and where the larvae is produced. The combs are carefully cut out and placed into hive boxes. Then the bees will begin to reattach themselves to the combs. A specialty vacuum is used to collect the rest of the bees and safely transport them to an apiary, or bee garden, where they can continue their critical work.
“It is a superior choice to relocate a bee colony rather than exterminate it because bees directly impact our daily lives,” Meier said. “We can’t survive without pollination.”
After extermination, honey and pollen are often left behind, which can reattract bees to the same area. The Paseo Del Norte Beekeeper Association aims to preserve the honeybee species and educate the community about their impact.
During construction of the new EPWater building, Meier said bees will not likely return to the area. The utility’s commitment to environmental stewardship helped preserve thousands of honeybees.
“We want the community to know our purpose is to protect the pollinators,” he said.
To learn more about the Paseo Del Norte Beekeeper Association, click here.