ENCINITAS — With bees in a state of rapid decline across the world, Mike James said he was shocked with what he saw Tuesday morning on his routine walk with his dog around Flora Vista Elementary School.
“So I am walking my dog and I see these guys, and they are spraying insecticide and they are killing bees,” James said. “It seemed wrong.”
James wasn’t alone. Several residents contacted The Coast News and the Encinitas Union School District to complain about the bee extermination, which occurred during Spring Break when no students were on the New Encinitas campus.
“It just seemed like if there was ever a week for the district to remove the bees without endangering the kids, this would have been the perfect week to do it,” James said.
The global decline of domestic honeybees is well documented. According to a survey by the US Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America, 42 percent of managed honeybee colonies were lost in 2014 alone.
Experts cite Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome defined as a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present, as one of the primary catalysts, though bees face a number of other risks.
School district officials said the school district typically attempts to humanely remove hives and only turns to extermination as a last resort, but decided that the hive’s location in this case — inside of the concrete foundation of a portable building — made it virtually impossible to remove.
“Based upon the location of the bees, they were inaccessible,” Encinitas Union Superintendent Timothy Baird wrote in an email on Wednesday. “From our prior experience, we knew that it would be a waste of time and effort to get a beekeeper out when they couldn’t access the hive.”
The Coast News visited the school site on Wednesday with Gerry Devitt, the district facilities and maintenance director. Bees could still be seen swarming around the crack in the base of the portable building where the hive was located.
Devitt echoed Baird’s statements regarding the district’s bee removal practices and the current situation. The district has bee suits to protect crews investigating hives, and boxes laced with pheromones that they deploy to attract bees so they can be relocated humanely.
“Our policy is to make every effort to save the bees, we know they are in trouble,” Devitt said. “If we can’t get them, we have brought in beekeepers who will try to establish them as a hive elsewhere
“In this case, we were not able to remove them,” Devitt said. “We would have had to go in and break concrete in order to get them, and that would have been very difficult.”
A prominent local beekeeper disagreed with the district’s assertion that the hive could not be removed.
James McDonald of the Encinitas Bee Co. has advocated for the city and school districts to ban the use of pesticides that contain neonicotinoids — which are believed to harm bees.
McDonald said bees generally nest in hollow spaces, so the hive probably wasn’t as far removed as the district believed it to be. He believed the district simply didn’t want to spend the additional money for removal.
“Colonies of bees that can’t be removed alive are like hen’s teeth. They don’t exist,” McDonald said. “The district probably wanted the quick fix, and didn’t want the headaches or to spend the money.”
McDonald said that the district is still going to have to remove the honeycomb from under the portable building, which, as it rots, will attract other pests and vermin.
“It’s almost a bio hazard,” he said.
Encinitas Union has prided itself on being a so-called “green” district, touting its innovative agricultural curriculum, which is anchored by its farm lab on Quail Gardens Drive, as well as its effort to install solar panels on each of the nine district campuses, a successful lunchtime recycling program and its integrated pest management policy that virtually eliminated the use of inorganic pesticides and herbicides on campus grounds.
“We are a very green district and we have eliminated almost all pesticides and herbicides,” Baird said.
James said that is what makes Tuesday’s incident all the more disconcerting.
“They do have this reputation and they go to great lengths to tell everyone how green the district is,” James said. “It just felt like this doesn’t feel green at all.”
The Coast News has filed records requests regarding the district’s bee-removal practices and will follow-up the story when those records are obtained.