WILLIAMSTON- With the winter season approaching, the Williamston City Council met Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. to listen to Michigan Pollinator Initiative representative Meghan Milbrath discuss the city’s current policy on beekeeping.
According to Williamston Mayor Tammy Gilroy, the current ordinance in Williamston does not allow for beekeeping, but the board is interested in changing that ordinance to teach skills to the community and educate citizens on the importance of honeybees.
“I think it could be a good thing and I would like to see it happen in the future, especially for next growing season,” Gilroy said. “I think it would be a great idea for children to learn that type of skill and teach them where their food comes from. We could implement it in the K-12 area in a science program and possibly have hives on school property.”
Gilroy said that there would be many steps moving forward to change the ordinance on beekeeping. This process would involve bringing the ordinance that currently exists and having the Williamston community developer rewrite that ordinance with new language that would allow it.
“We post it in our local newspaper the Williamston Enterprise so that way the public is notified of a reading of an ordinance and voting on that ordinance,” Gilroy said. “It’s very process driven.”
Following multiple readings and discussions, the board could vote to change the ordinance to allow beekeeping.
Gilroy also explains that the changing ordinance would require extensive education for the public.
“It’s educating the public about the perceived risk vs. the actual risk,” Gilroy said. “It’s also educating the difference between a bee and a wasp.”
Michigan Pollinator Initiative representative Meghan Milbrath has been working with bees for 25 years, and conducted a presentation to educate the board and audience on the risks of beekeeping.
“A lot of cities’ first concerns are the risks,” Milbrath said. “One of the things we do is manage the perception of risk vs. the actual risk. With honey bees, it really is the perception of risk.”
According to Milbrath, honeybees contribute to the success of crops, where as yellow jackets are the real risk.
“Honeybees do have a defensive threshold,” Milbrath said. “This threshold can be triggered if they think they are in danger or if a honeybee’s neighbor sends out an alarm that it’s in danger.”
Council member Chad Munce asked Milbrath about the decreasing populations of bees globally, and how beekeepers contribute to solving these declining numbers.
“In 1945 we had about 5.6 million colonies in the United States,” Milbrath said. “We are now down to about 2.6 million.”
Milbrath currently works with the initiative through Michigan State University, and works with programs on campus to support the expansion of beekeeping.
“We have beehives on the roofs of the dorms in East Lansing,” Milbrath said. “We are working on a program called Pollinator Champions which should be released in 2018. People can take classes with handouts, slides and a five-hour online course where they can talk to other groups about the importance of pollinators and the things you can do for them.”
Two-year Williamston resident Elizabeth Heilman added that her family of five has just began beekeeping, and supports the growth of this hobby.
“We have had one bee sting in two years,” Heilman said. “It was really safe and not an issue.”
The board plans to discuss this ordinance in the future at their next meeting on Nov. 13.