Thursday, April 11, 2013

beehives illegal? Laws and beehives in WA. state

Picture courtesy of  cowles syndicate, inc
I was reading an article in the local paper, and in that article, the following comment was made:

"...It is illegal to raise bees with a skep today. "

A skep is a traditional form of beehive, usually made of woven straw.  You see them in traditional representations of beekeeping -- and in childrens books.  Winnie the Poo would raid a skep hive.

I've put a picture of one, below

Picture courtesy of
By the way; if you're interested in the construction or use of skep hives, covers that pretty well, and sells them, too.

I'd never heard of any law related to beehives, and certainly I've never heard of any particular beehive being illegal in Washington State.  So I did a bit of research.  

The best overview of the laws related to bees in Washington State is a web page maintained by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).  You'll find that page here.

There are various laws related to beekeeping and honey production and sales.  One law establishes the honey bee commission, whos principle activities I've quoted at the bottom of this post.

That's interesting, but what about illegal bee hives?

Digging a little further, there's a statewide licensing requirement for bee hives, and you'll find the registration form for your hives here.    I'm going to confess:  My hives weren't licensed.  I called Jenny Miller at (360) 902-1901, she being the designated contact, and confessed; my packages don't get here until april 20th, I was surprised that there was a licensing requirement, what's the late fee?

She laughed, and said no problem, just send in the license amount, and they'd waive the late fee.  Ok, so now I'm not a bee criminal, but none of that makes swep hives, or any other sort of hive, illegal.

The city of buckley does have a regulation that requires moveable frame hives, so if you live in the town of buckley, it wouldn't be legal to keep bees in a swep hive...  unless it was for educational purposes, per Buckley resolution # 9.15.030 (2).

Digging further, there's laws related to the sale of honey, and it's pretty specific about things like how full the jars can be, and whether you can re-use jars, and all sorts of other particular.   But no part of that law talks about the type of hive, or makes any particular hive illegal.

So I think you're safe keeping bees in a skep, but you probably don't want to.  Removable frame hives allow the easy maintenance and inspection of the combs for disease or parasite, and you don't have to destroy the hive to harvest the honey, as is typically done with skep hives.  so you have the chance to have your bees live multiple seasons.

Principal activities of the honey bee commission:

    (1) Increasing the consumption of products of the honey bee industry and promoting the use of its services and stabilizing the honey bee industry within the state and nation is a valid and necessary exercise of the power of the state to protect the public health, to provide for the economic development of the state, and to promote the welfare of the people of the state;

     (2) Honey bee industry products produced and services provided in Washington make an important contribution to the agricultural industry of the state of Washington. The business of researching, marketing, and distributing such products and the promotion of its services is in the public interest;

     (3) It is necessary to enhance the reputation of Washington honey bee industry products and services in domestic and national markets;

     (4) It is necessary to promote and educate the public regarding the value of honey bee industry products and services, and to spread that knowledge throughout the state and nation to increase the awareness and consumption of honey bee products and the use of honey bee services;

     (5) State and national markets for Washington honey bee industry products may benefit from promotion of honey bee products through education and advertising;

     (6) It is necessary to stabilize the Washington honey bee industry, to enlarge its markets, and increase the consumption of Washington honey bee industry products and services to assure the payment of taxes to the state and its subdivisions, to alleviate unemployment, and to provide for higher wage scales for agricultural labor and maintenance of a reasonable standard of living;

     (7) Providing information to the public on the manner, cost, and expense of producing, and the care taken to produce and sell, honey bee industry products and services of the highest quality, the methods and care used in their preparation for market, and the methods of sale and distribution is in the public interest;

     (8) It is necessary to protect the public by educating it on the various benefits of honey bee industry services, the food value of its products, and their industrial and medicinal uses.


Dave said...

You will not find a specific reference to Skeps, however they are banned for use by beekeepers because they do not fit the definition of a hive as outlined in RCW 15.60.005
"(7) "Hive" means a manufactured receptacle or container
prepared for the use of bees, that includes movable frames,
combs, and substances deposited into the hive by bees".

Bruce King said...

The way that laws work is that if it's not illegal, it's legal. So to make it illegal to keep bees in skeps, you'd need to have language that says something along the lines of "you can only keep bees in hives as defined in rcw 15.60.005".

The argument could be made that if you're not keeping bees in hives as defined in 15.60.005 you're not actually beekeeping, and so don't need to pay the apiary license fee, for instance.

Other laws do indeed specify moveable frame hives, like the ones in the town of buckley that I referenced, but there's no statewide law that makes the use of skeps or other bee housing illegal that I'm aware of.

off grid mama said...

Depends on the state. There are states where skeps are banned. Usually high honey producing states.

Lee Johnson said...

Because it hasn't been said yet ...

Mandatory registration of bee hives is absurd. Does Washington state have an army of bureaucrats combing the forests to report all the unregistered wild hives?