Big Apple beekeepers are all a buzz with joy after the New York City's Board of Health voted Tuesday reversed a long-standing ban on tending to honeybees.
Health officials had previously banned beekeeping because honeybees were considered just as dangerous as hyenas and poisonous snakes.
But the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene unanimously amended the law after research showed that honeybees, specifically the Apis mellifera, are not harmful to the public, citing few bee stings around the city, reported the New York Times.
Some renegade beekeepers allegedly secretly had beehives on rooftops and gardens regardless of the ban.
Now that the practice is legal, beekeepers must register with the health department and maintain the hives so that the bees are not a nuisance, officials said.
Lately, bees have picked up political cache among a growing number of green-minded folk interested in seeing organic agriculture return to big American cities. The movement to end the ban picked up after Michelle Obama had a hive installed on the South Lawn of the White House.
"The bees are a great way to start that conversation," said David Vigil, a coordinator at the urban agriculture group East New York Farms!, which conducts seminars on beekeeping and has two hives at its youth garden in Brooklyn.
A hive can produce as much as 100 pounds of honey per year, he said, and the bees are useful for pollinating all sorts of crops.
"There are very few instances of people being stung," he added. Honeybees, he said, "are naturally defensive, but they are not aggressive at all.
News of the lifting of the ban delighted Anna Thea Bridge, a Queens lawyer and longtime bee-lover who said she has been dreaming about cultivating a hive in the city for nearly six years
"The timing is great!" she said, noting that the vote comes just as spring begins to stir in New York, and a little more than a month before the bees make their seasonal reappearance. "I'm going to get my bees next month. Oh, I'm so excited," she said
Bridge, who currently tends bees at her sister's farm in New Jersey, said she plans to keep them on the roof of her home and hopes to win over any nervous neighbors with free honey.
People interested in starting a bee colony will need to register their hives with the city, but no license will be required. Health officials said the register will mostly be used to help resolve any complaints that may arise.
Previously, the city had investigated a few dozen complaints a year about illegal hives, and issued fines to some violators as high as $2,000.
The city lifted the ban for only one type of bee, the honey-producing Apis mellifera. Wasps, hornets and other types of stinging insects are still banned.
Bridge, a member of the New York City Beekeepers Association, noted that honeybees are not the same as the annoying yellow jackets that swarm around trash cans in city parks during warm weather that have ruined many a summer picnic.
"Totally different insect," she said. Honey bees, she said, don't like human food.
There aren't hard and fast rules as to where people may keep bees, but Vigil said the location should be a place with a mix of sun and shade, where the bees aren't going to be disturbed, and where they have a clear flight path to a source of nectar and water.
"They are pretty hardy creatures," he said. "Certainly, there are examples of rooftop hives in Manhattan that do fine."