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Signal Mountain abuzz with honeybee dilemma

Signal Mountain Town Hall is buzzing with talk of honeybees.

Local beekeeper Michelle Michaud brought the issue of her honeybee habitat placement to the attention of the Signal Mountain Town Council members at their most recent work session. Her efforts to educate and advocate for the placement of her honeybee hive prompted the Council to consider adding a section to the town’s animal control ordinance, adopted in 1990.

“What stipulations do we need for public safety?” asked Councilwoman Annette Allen at the work session. “While I’ve read that honeybees are not aggressive, if provoked they can act aggressively; they can sting people and it can be fatal if done in large numbers. It’s a risk analysis. Is there something we can do to minimize the risk?”

Issues arise in regards to Michaud’s hive, which is located in her front yard — in violation of the animal control ordinance — due to the vicinity of a nearby school bus stop. According to Town Manager Honna Rogers, two complaints have been made against the beehive in Michaud’s front yard due to safety concerns.

“The reason we had that town [animal control] ordinance has nothing to do with the aggressiveness of animals; it has to do with sightliness of a home,” said Rogers.

“Bees need sun to thrive,” said Michaud. “They need the sun to warm up in the morning to do their work. The only place we have full sun in the morning, seriously from 8:30 on, is the front right corner of our yard.”

Finding a solution is not a simple matter of moving her beehive, she added. If a keeper moves a hive more than five miles, the bees, which orient themselves according to the sun, should be fine, but moving them a smaller distance risks harming or killing the hive, she explained.

“They are actually farther away from people in my front yard than they are in the back yard because I’ve got five houses back there,” added Michaud.

If the ordinance is to be revised or added to, council members agreed that educating residents about the honeybee would be important in passing the revision so that residents would not be fearful of the hives.

Michaud brought attention to the importance of honeybees in the environment, pointing out that the population has dwindled by 50 percent in the past 50 years.

The honeybee is Tennessee’s state agricultural insect and is protected by a state statute written in 1999, she said.

“Signal’s animal control ordinance, which was written in 1990 — awhile before the state statute — did not take into consideration the honeybee habitat,” she added. “It says no animals in front yards; it does not provide for fish, bat houses, beekeepers, anything like that.”

Signal currently has eight registered beekeepers. Michaud said eight per square mile is what’s needed to sustain pollination; the town limits currently encompass a little more than eight square miles, although the annexation of Fox Run and Windtree that goes into effect at the end of this year will add more property, according to Rogers.

“We will draft an ordinance that we think is best for the entire town,” said Rogers, who will soon begin researching the best way to draft the revised ordinance.

Whether or not that ordinance will allow Michaud — and others — to keep her hive in her front yard is yet to be determined.

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