The call came early in the morning: an emergency situation involving a Richmond resident deathly allergic to bees, who discovered a colony buzzing beneath his floorboards. This was one of the last jobs David Williams would take on this year, as the summer season of bee removal and rescues in California is coming to an end.
The owner of Bzz Bee Removal servicing the East Bay since 1991, Williams locates, captures and transports bees to local keepers, seeking to protect the insects from what is known as colony collapse disorder.
Bee colonies pollinate “87 of the leading 115 food crops” and are collapsing at an “average of 30% each winter compared to historical loss rates of 10 to 15%,” according to a press release issued by the Obama administration in 2014.
Due to construction of new development in the Bay Area, there are fewer natural spaces for protected bee colonies. Under the Trump administration, efforts to promote the health of honeybees established by Obama have also been eliminated, creating a hive-shaped hole in our food-sustainability ecosystem.
“In building more houses and using up more of the land, bees have less trees to hang out in,” Williams said. “They’ll go in attics, because the heat goes up into your house, and their hives have to be about 80 degrees incubation.”
On a recent Saturday, Williams slipped into a bee suit and carefully placed a protective veil over his face. He grabbed the nozzle of a standard vacuum with holes drilled into the side. “The trick is to have a vacuum that’s governed down. It’s a little softer, so you can suck the bees out alive. Some vacs are just too strong, and they won’t survive the process,” he explained.
Depending on the size of the hive and location within a structure, it can take up to nine hours to remove a hive. The process starts early in the morning, before the bees have gone foraging, and lasts until the late evening hours when they’ve returned. No bee gets left behind.
Anything remaining on the walls from a removed hive is a powerful magnet attracting bees and other invasive insects back to the same site. Williams must seal off and scrape away all of the wax, honey, and other protein-packed gooey contents.
He doesn’t scrape alone. His co-workers include his son Sterling Williams, and friend Rodney Chapman. Chapman recalled a job where bee-loving students in Berkeley decided to co-habituate with the insects. When Bzz Bee finally opened up the student’s wall to remove the hive, they discovered 50 pounds of honey.
Williams uses this bountiful supply of delicious, golden honey “to create natural products” like bees wax candles, lip stick, shoe polish, and “even his very own form of Ben Gay.” It’s a leisurely hobby that he enjoys after an arduous and dangerous removal job.
He encourages individuals of all ages to take interest in becoming a bee keeper, and will even supply you with your own set of bees. He’s done this for organizations such as “Kids for Consciousness,” a community garden in Richmond established to teach children about fruits, vegetables, and bees.
Locally, Williams is known as a “honeybee hero,” keeping the community at large safe from bee invasion, and protecting these essential pollinators in our global food supply.
It is clear his work is motivated by a love of bees, and he admitted that watching the vivacious work ethic of these small pollinators motivates him to keep busy in life, and always contributing to the greater good.
“We need the bees, primarily because of the food supply. They pollinate a lot of food that we need to eat, not just us, but food we ship out to the rest of the world,” Williams said.
Oregon-based Bee expert Naomi Price agreed. She explained that unethical spraying of pesticides by agri-chemical companies is rapidly starving out colonies, and so it is important to understand “the biology and behavior of a honeybee to truly remove them safely.”
“We need to be cognitive of the constant construction and demolishing of the forage,” Price said. “On agricultural lands, farmers have been concerned about noxious weeds, [but] it’s these weeds that the honeybees love the best, so there has to be some kind of balance.”
Services such as Williams’ bee removal are critical for home and property owners who may view a beehive as an infestation, and mistakenly eliminate a colony through the use of killing sprays. Williams kneeled down to pick up a drone bee and let the insect fumble casually about his fingertips while studying its every move. His parting thought was simple:
“If the bees go, we’re not far behind.”