Keeping step with other urban-ag-conscious cities, DC Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed a bill into effect that would formally legalize backyard beekeeping in DC. The legislation, which is part of the Sustainable DC Plan, specifically targets urban beekeeping as a means to promote urban agriculture.

Highlighting the broad initiative of sustainable “food,” the plan aims to “put 20 additional acres of land under cultivation for growing food” by 2032. The legislation notes, “A stronger local food supply and distribution system will ensure that District residents have better access to healthy and affordable food from full-service grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and community and commercial agriculture projects within their neighborhoods.” Where local garden and agriculture projects are taking shape, honeybees are an obvious step toward increased crop yield and easier access to nutritious food.

While the act was passed on January 16, the law is projected to take effect on Monday, April 22, 2013. But, what this will mean for beekeepers has not yet been finalized. Currently, the sustainability act states colonies should be confined in Langstroth hives, limited to four per one-quarter acre, and must be registered with the city on an annual basis (pages 16-19).

The legislation also gives the mayor the ability to charge a registration fee. In speaking with the mayor’s office this month, however, certain logistics have not been solidified. For instance, how the registration process will work and who will oversee any enforcement has not been established. Before the law goes into effect, the mayor’s office is reaching out to beekeeping experts for guidance on crafting the specifics.

Still, having this legislation eventually in place is a step up from the two-line section that regulated DC beekeeping since it passed in May of 1981. The former law said “no bees or hives of bees” could be kept within 500 feet of a home. Now, before you think “wow, I’ve been a renegade apiarist this whole time,” be sure to check out line two — section 904.2 of Title 24 in DC’s municipal regulations. This is where it gets pretty convoluted. The second line somewhat negates 904.1 because it says the provision does not apply to “bees confined in hives,” nor bees that “cannot stray from the property.” I’m not entirely sure how one could confine an entire colony of bees, certainly not in DC. Perhaps the law was meant for really lazy honeybees…

At this point though, the 1981 law will be repealed when Sustainable DC goes into effect, according to the mayor’s office. DC Honeybees will continue to blog as further details are released regarding the new law.

March 19, 2013