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Health, Science & Environment

Deregulating Beekeeping: A Hotbutton Topic in Utah's Capitol

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Judy Fahys/KUER
Rep. Marc Roberts, R-American Fork, stands by a Department of Agriculture and Food hive following a contentious hearing on deregulating beekeeping in Utah.

Utah lawmakers pondered two of Utah’s great passions Wednesday as they discussed deregulating beekeeping.

Rep. Marc Roberts, R-American Fork, is proposing a bill to scrap the Beehive State’s requirement to register beehives. He says the mandate in current law is widely ignored, widely unknown and unenforced.

“If you look at that whole section,” he testified, “it says it is unlawful to have bees without registering in the state. So, we’re just saying, you’re not a criminal if you have bees.”

Roberts says his bill would encourage beekeeping -- and voluntary registration.

The bill prompted libertarian activist and backyard beekeeper Connor Boyack to testify. He argued that hobbyists swap tips on pesticides and apiary disease, so they resent government meddling in Utah’s hives.

“They thought the whole Beehive State regulation thing was out of whack,” he told the Legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee. “It was mostly a philosophic objection: ‘There’s no value there. I don’t think I should be on a government database somewhere. Leave me alone. I’m going to go pursue my hobby’.”

Registration advocates, including state agriculture officials, say keeping hive tallies helps keep colonies healthy and the annual fee bankrolls the state’s apiary oversight. Utah Agriculture Commissioner Luann Adams says the registry of around 2,000 beekeepers allows her agency to monitor bee populations and prevent diseases that can decimate hives. Commercial beekeeper Jim Jones says current regulations help protect his business.

“As a business owner, and as my livelihood depends on bees,  I’m scared to death of deregulation. I’m scared to death of people saying, Hey, I can just do whatever I want.”

Lawmakers didn’t take a vote on Roberts bill. They could consider it at a future interim meeting, or the lawmaker could bring it up again during an upcoming General Session.

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