FLEMINGTON, NJ – Hunterdon Freeholders got an earful this week from beekeepers, many of whom asked the board to oppose rules proposed by the state that would regulate hobbyist beekeepers.

The state Department of Agriculture drafted the proposed changes, issuing a deadline of today to comment on them.

Kevin Inglin, who lives in East Amwell, was joined by many others from the Northwest New Jersey Beekeepers Association.

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“We are all opposed to the proposed amendments” to state beekeeping rules, Inglin said. The changes would create “unreasonable and ambiguous burdens for municipalities” and “does not encourage and enable beekeeping,” he said.

If adopted, the rules would create a bureaucracy and “overburden beekeepers and municipalities alike,” according to Inglin.

Tom Watkinson, who lives in Raritan Township, said he would not be affected by the rules change. That’s because he lives on a 12-acre farm and would be protected by the state’s right-to-farm rules. Still, he said he has 44 questions about “ambiguities and irregularities in the proposal.”

After the Freeholder meeting, Watkinson appeared before the Raritan Township Committee at its regular meeting, where he repeated his concerns and promised to work with the township to also challenge the Department of Agriculture.

According to the N.J. Beekeepers Association, the changes require “extremely low proposed hive densities and severely restricted locations” which it calls “irrational and unsupported by science.” Beekeeping in urban areas would not be allowed and “huge swaths of the urbanized and suburbanized parts of the state would be off-limits to managed honeybees.”

The rules proposals are being driven by “a few unique, isolated complaints which will result in additional onerous regulations to beekeepers,” Inglin said, resulting in  the “loss of many hobbyist beekeepers and their beehives.” He argued that the Freeholders should oppose the draft changes.

Therese White of Gladstone told the Freeholders she was a member of team that worked with the state on the rules. She said “unfortunately, much of the information has been incorrect” in a “media blitz” by the New Jersey Beekeeper’s Association.

“These proposed rules allow the towns to have some input, in this home rule state,” White said.

On its website, the Beekeepers Association claims that the changes would set “restrictive limits on the number of colonies you can keep or outright banning the ability to keep bees” and “Hobbyist beekeepers will be required to notify nearby neighbors every year that bees are kept on the property.” The result will be “overbearing management practices that are too stringent, scientifically unfounded, and at a significant cost and effort to local beekeepers.”

Judy Gleason of Lambertville asked the Freeholders to neither oppose or support the draft rules. Instead, “simply see what happens with the comments,” she said, and after comments are collected, if changes to the regulations are proposed, “It will go out for comment again. The Freeholders will have an opportunity to - in a more detailed way – give your thinking on what’s going on, rather than just simply opposing.”

White said the rules were prompted by some towns that don’t allow beekeeping and by the “over-zealous” beekeeper, such as her neighbor.

What happens to improperly managed bees? “You have bee infestations in your house with honeycombs in your attic,” she said. “Your children cannot play in your yard because you have swarms in your yard. You have a constant presence of bees in your yard. Every time you go out on your deck, all you have are bees that you’re constantly swatting, not knowing what to do.”

If you have a built-in pool, puddles on the side of the pool attract “30 bees per puddle,” White said. “You cannot use your property the way it was intended to be used.”

Inglin argued that there is “no evidence” that there’s a problem with honeybees “that warrants such an extensive proposal to govern beekeepers.” He called proposed limits on the number of hives a beekeeper can maintain “irrational and unsupported by any science.”

“We want to be partners with the Department of Ag,” he said, and favor the state developing “a standard set of best practices” because “each municipality was going its own way, and there was no consistent application of standards and practices.”

He noted that a single bee hive can pollinate more than 18,000 acres.

“If you live in a three-mile radius of Payne Road and Lilac Drive, “I’ve been pollinating your garden for 20 years and you didn’t even know it,” said Robert Simonofsky of Clinton Township. Another beekeeper on Allerton Road covers another three-mile radius, he said.

The controversy is personal for Freeholder Matt Holt, who noted that he grew up on a family farm at the corner of Payne Road and Lilac Drive. His family raised bees on the farm, he said, but he noted that in the nearly 50 years since then, “we’ve watched Hunterdon County evolve and change.

“At the moment, it’s not ready,” Holt said of the draft  changes. “It needs more conversation, and needs more opportunity to find the balance between beekeepers and non-beekeepers,” which the resolution unanimously adopted by the Freeholders proclaims.

The resolution also states that, “Gentle  strains  of  honey  bees  can  be  maintained  without  creating  a  detriment  to  public health and safety, and, in fact, the New Jersey Beekeeper Association has been keeping bees at Deerpath/Round Mountain Park for decades without one complaint or report of stinging.”