Urban beekeeping project works to restore honey bee populations with hives all over Washington, D.C.
BY KERRY BREEN, CHRISTINA RUFFINI, GILLIAN MORLEY
From rooftops to government gardens, embassies to office buildings, if you know where to look, you’ll find honey bees buzzing all over Washington, D.C.
The cityscape has become a hospitable home to the pollinators. About 15 years ago, honey bee populations hit an all-time low, so in 2014, former President Barack Obama launched a national strategy to protect and promote the insects. Bees and other pollinators are critical to the global food supply, pollinating about a third of the world’s crops and three-fourths of all flowering plants.
Soon after Obama’s strategy was launched, hives were humming at government facilities across the country.
Some live in unassuming boxes at a secure compound near the U.S. State Department. They’re team-oriented, mission-focused drones, making them the perfect federal employees. The sweet honey they produce is just a bonus.
“We try to keep them apolitical,” joked Keith Hanigan, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary in charge of operations. He’s also in charge of the building’s bees.
“Bees is really one of the most important things I do here for the State Department,” Hanigan said. “We wanted to do our part, and we (knew) that other agencies were getting involved as well. So it seemed like something small and simple that we could do.”
Thanks to the diligent efforts of beekeepers, the honey bee population has largely rebounded and stabilized over the past few years, even as pesticides, mites and habitat loss still pose a threat.
While bees historically haven’t gotten very good buzz, the project is helping rehabilitate their image.
“I think now you see them and you want to nurture them, you want to take care of them,” Hanigan said. “I think it’s really raised the awareness, certainly for me, but I think for a lot of our staff.”
Urban beekeepers like Solomon Jeong say that education efforts are also helping to win over hearts and minds.
“A lot more people are more aware of like, how important (bees) are, as well as how cute they are,” Jeong said. “If you see a photo, they’re fuzzy and round. It’s almost like a teddy bear or something.”
Teaching people about bee habits also helps, Jeong said.
“(Honey bees are) not going to be interested in you or your food. They’re not going to be like ‘Oh, there’s a human, let’s go sting them,'” Jeong said.
The bees aren’t just on U.S. government buildings. On the rooftop of the Canadian embassy, there are tens of thousands of bees, led by queen bees nicknamed “Bee-Once” and “Celine Bee-on.”
Sean Robertson, who manages the facility for the Canadian government, said the bees churn out about 100 jars of honey each year.
“I often say it’s one of my favorite parts of my job, actually coming up here and getting to work with the bees,” Robertson said.
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