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How to Help Your City Change Regulations about Bees

Do you want to keep bees, but your city doesn't allow beekeeping? Don't despair! Many cities and towns have recently been changing their policies to allow residents to keep some hives. In many areas, this change came fairly easily and was driven by only a few people or a dedicated individual. At MSU extension, we have worked with a few cities and villages as they have made this change, and have found a few things to be very helpful:

1) It takes a dedicated person or small group of people to work with city council. Have one point person who contacts city council, puts the issue of the beekeeping on the schedule to discuss, and keeps track of when meetings are occurring, and what needs to be done. 

2) Be prepared.  It is much easier for city councils to start with existing policy than to try to develop their own. It is also easier for them to support beekeeping if you show that it is allowed in other similar towns, cities, or villages. Do your homework to find what nearby areas allow beekeeping, and use their policies as an example for your city council to construct their own. Here are some examples of bee friendly policy in Michigan:

3). Spread the word, and get others involved. Start with your beekeeping club and ensure that those policy examples make sense for your area and your club. In Michigan, a list of local clubs is maintained by the Michigan Beekeepers' Association. Garden clubs and master gardeners are often good partners as well. Try to get a diverse group of residents that would be ready to speak on your behalf.  

4). Educate the board and the public on risk. Usually the major hurdle is not the actual risk of honey bees, but the perceived risk of honey bees. Your city council members will be concerned both about the risk to their citizens, as well as the complaints that they may hear. Come prepared with handouts explaining the difference between yellow jackets and honey bees (photos work great), and with facts on the rates of honey bee stings. Council members will have to deal with concerned citizens, so do them a favor and arm them with facts. The more information they have, the better they can educate others.  

5). Invite an expert to a city council meeting. The expert can attend in person or can call into the meeting, or be available to answer specific questions from council members. Contact your local extension office and see if they can refer you to a honey bee extension specialist.  If you would like assistance in Michigan, reach out to the experts at MSU. MSU extension educators and specialists cannot advocate for policy, but they can provide background and education on risks and similar policies in the state.