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Neighbors Abuzz About Busy Bees

On sunny days, Edsel York’s front yard buzzes with the sounds of spring.

Some days, the noise sends him flying into the house to hide.

“Through my living room window, 50 feet away, I can see bees, thousands of them, buzzing from one willow tree to the next,” the 68-yearold retiree says. “Sounds like a B-29 taking off. Drives me crazy.”

York’s neighbor on rural Pinecone Road, 12 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, is a beekeeper. Gerald Dean houses four honeybee colonies - 120,000 to 250,000 of the buggers - on five acres dense with pine trees.

Yet, York and wife Ginny seem to do much of the keeping.

Worker bees commute daily to the gardening-crazy couple’s yard. There they drone on, thriving on roses, willows, wisteria, magnolias and cherry trees.

The problem has blossomed into a neighborhood dispute experts say is all-too-common among hobby beekeepers.

Ginny York and her grandchildren have been stung. Her husband says he hasn’t only because he’s a smoker and “insects hate nicotine.”

When the honeybees swarm in early summer, “it’s like a cloud of smoke in our front yard. There’s millions of them,” Ginny York says. “Our trees are black with them.”

During barbecues, the couple set steaks around the yard like lanterns to ward off the flying nuisances.

Ginny York regularly scrapes tiny floating bee carcasses from her bird bath.

“We used to have a swimming pool, but the bees wouldn’t let us in it,” she says.

The couple blame Dean because he doesn’t grow flowering plants.

“He’s got nothing over there that’s conducive to sustaining bees,” Edsel York says. “It’s not as bad as man’s inhumanity to man, but it’s not very neighborly.”

Dean argues bees are everywhere and appears equally miffed at the Yorks. “Why do people living way out here expect it to be like it is downtown?” he asks.

Dean moved to Pinecone Road more than a decade ago, and says he’s always had bees.

Ginny York moved in a year later - before marrying Edsel. She says Dean added the honey makers just three years ago.

Regardless, the bees also have other neighbors aflutter.

Ten acres from Dean, Quentin Weller litters his yard with mixing bowls loaded with lemon-scented ammonia. The bees fly in and die.

It’s a reverse sting, of sorts.

“This guy goes out and raises bees and we try to trap them,” Weller says. “Seems silly.”

The Yorks fear deer that wander through their yard would drink the sauce and suffer a similar fate.

“What are we supposed to do?” Edsel York asks.

There aren’t many options. County zoning laws don’t apply. The Idaho Department of Agriculture says state beekeeping regulations are lax.

“How do you control it? That’s a good question. You don’t, really,” says Roger Vega, administrator for the department’s division of plant industries and a beekeeper himself.

Mike Burgett, an Oregon State University entomologist, dedicated a book chapter to this common neighborhood honeybee-harboring conflict.

He often testifies as an “expert witness” in beekeeping court battles.

He can argue either side.

“I’d tell the beekeeper to say ‘Prove those are my bees,”’ Burgett says. “They probably are, but how’s anybody going to prove it?”

On the other hand, he says, beekeepers often create public relations nightmares that could be solved with a little, well, honey.

“They should go over to each of their neighbors’ houses and give them a jar of honey and say ‘this is from our environment,”’ Burgett says.

Dean says the bee problem may solve itself.

A mite epidemic could force him to get rid of his pets.

The Yorks point to the dozens of unused hive boxes stacked in Dean’s yard and shrug, fearing the worst.

“If he ever gets all those things going we won’t be able to leave our house without one of those hoods,” Edsel York says.


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