Four years after a proposal to allow beekeeping in the city of St. Peter was struck down by the City Council, a new proposal suffered the same fate April 26.
The City Council voted 5-2 against an ordinance that would’ve allowed the practice of keeping honeybees within city limits. Councilor Emily Bruflat, who also supported the 2017 proposal before she was on the council, and Brad DeVos were the two yes votes.
Councilors Keri Johnson and Shanon Nowell, who had both expressed an open mind to the proposal throughout the several months of discussion, ended up voting against. Mayor Chuck Zieman and councilors Ed Johnson and Stephen Grams all voted against. Zieman and Grams were both on the council in 2017, too, voting against the ordinance change then and now.
For Keri Johnson and Nowell, the primary issue was the potential impact honeybees might have on other native pollinators in the community. There is a mix of research on the topic, but many believe that honeybees tend to dominate other pollinators, putting more pressure on species that are already in decline.
“Where I really get hung up is the science behind the impact on native pollinators, and there are people on both sides who know a lot but disagree on this subject,” Nowell said. “At this point, I’m just not comfortable voting yes, because I am gravely concerned about our native pollinators.”
Keri Johnson added that, while limits could be put on beekeeping permits in the city to help prevent honeybees from overwhelming other species, that kind of rule could make the practice inequitable.
“I know we can limit permits to prevent that, but that ultimately limits access to opportunities and creates inequities,” she said.
She added that she wants to move ahead on other pollinator friendly initiatives.
“Many of the constituents that wrote us really asked the council to direct our energy and time toward promoting pollinator friendly practices as a city and/or incentives … I think that’s a great place to direct energy,” she said.
In addition to Bruflat and DeVos, beekeeping got support at the April 26 meeting from Peter Westre, a St. Peter resident who has done plenty research on the topic. He noted the concept of “social carrying capacity,” the maximum level of use that can be absorbed by an area without an unacceptable decline in the quality of experience of visitors and without unacceptable adverse impact on the area’s society.
“Native pollinators and honeybees can successfully co-exist,” Westre said. “The current ordinance does meet best practices. We’d be looking at probably fewer than 10 applications for licenses … and that’s well within the social carrying capacity.”
Bruflat agreed and challenged other councilors on their concerns.
“First, all pollinators, including honeybees, are already here in St. Peter. We can’t legislate them away,” Bruflat said. “Two, if one has the opinion that honeybees should only be in the country but also believes they’re invasive and should not be involved in conservation efforts, I believe those ideas are contradictory. Third, I would not vote for something I believe to be dangerous. I believe the risk in this case to be negligible …”
Some on the council, including Mayor Zieman, have also expressed concern of additional bees meaning additional opportunities for bee stings, particularly to those who might be allergic. While Bruflat and others argued that honeybees are not aggressive, it remained a concern for some.
Ultimately, it was the impact on native pollinators, though, that swayed enough councilors to vote against the ordinance, and the proposal failed. For the time being, at least, the buzz has been put to rest.