Bee hive thefts on the rise in Riverside County

Sid Garcia Image
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Bee hive thefts on the rise in Riverside County
Bee hive rustlers are at work in Riverside County, stealing valuable hives. Many suspect fellow beekeepers are behind the thefts.

MURRIETA, Calif. (KABC) -- Bees are integral for growing anything in California and a money-making operation.

Beekeepers get a premium for leasing hives out to growers. Each pallet can be leased out to a grower for $600 a month.

Jack Wickard of the Honey Bee Company is one of several growers who's been stung by thieves stealing his bees.

"We lost about 200 hives and that was 200 hives that didn't go to pollination," Wickard said. "We probably lost about $30,000 to $40,000 in that little incident there, plus all the honey that they could have made too."

Wickard says honey is selling for about $2 a pound and the 200 hives he lost could produce hundreds of pounds of honey.

The culprits, according to Wickard and others growers: other beekeepers.

"It's mainly beekeepers that have had excessive losses over the winter and they just try to make their hives up again on somebody else's labor," Wickard said.

Proving someone stole bees is hard to do.

Shelley Kennedy Smith of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department says even with proper documentation, it comes down to whose story you believe, the accuser or the accused.

"We have to be able determine that the information that they're giving us is if that is accurate information for us to follow up on the leads," Smith said.

The one thing many beekeepers are doing to prevent thefts is marking their outgoing packages. But Wickard admits, sometimes this doesn't prevent thefts.

"They won't take the actual hives, they'll take the bees and they'll shake them into their hives and then they'll just leave your equipment out on the ground," Wickard said. "They don't really care, they just want the bees."

Wickard says it's hard to guard the bees when the hives are placed in open fields to do their job. He's just hoping the sting from the thefts won't cost him his family business.