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article imageUrban beekeeping set to become legal in New York City

By Bob Ewing     Dec 17, 2009 in World
The New York City Department of Health has taken the first step towards allowing residents to keep bees within the city.
The Department is apparently planning to remove honey bees from a list of animals that residents are prohibited from raising within the five boroughs.
Onearth reports bees were included with lions, pit vipers, crocodiles and other animals "naturally inclined to do harm." It was in 1999 under the Giuliani administration that bees were added to the list.
Earlier this year a bill was put before the New York City Council to permit urban beekeeping but nothing happened.
Urban bee keeping enthusiasts approached the health department which responded by saying yes, they'd allow urban beekeeping; however, this will be voted on in March 2010, shortly after a public comment period.
"We're very pleased to be able to encourage proper beekeeping training without feeling like we are skirting the law," said Liane Newton, the incoming organizer of the New York City Beekeeping Meetup Group to Onearth.
Recent years have witnessed a surge in growth of community gardens and this has inspired the interest in urban beekeeping.
New York City will not be the first city to permit beekeeping within city limits. Both Los Angeles and Denver do and Chicago's city hall has bee hives on its rooftops.
Over the past few years the honeybee has been under serious threat and this has repercussions for the food supply as a considerable portion of what people eat rely on the pollination services that honeybees provide.
In 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder was responsible for commercial beekeepers across the United States loosing 30 to 90 percent of their hives. The losses continue at about 30 percent each year.
Organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, support urban beekeeping.
"We can't really afford to outlaw beekeeping anywhere," said Gabriela Chavarria, the director of the NRDC's Science Center and an entomologist by training told Onearth.
"The reality is that honey bees are necessary for agriculture, and we need to eat."
The ban in New York City has not stopped residents from keeping bees and there are training sessions, honey co-ops, social gatherings and lessons for schoolchildren in community gardens from the Bronx to Brooklyn.
However, until now, beekeepers risked a fine ranging from $200 to $2,000 if a neighbor complained to city officials. This will be in the past if there is no or little public outcry in opposition to the change.
"We're really excited to start building support for community gardeners who want to raise bees and do it legally," said Jacquie Berger, executive director of Just Food told Onearth.
JustFood is a nonprofit focused on increasing access to healthy, locally grown food throughout the city's neighborhoods and three years ago it launched a campaign to raise awareness of the agricultural and economic opportunities created by bees.
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