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Honeybees aren’t actually native to North America. The earliest English settlers brought them to the New World to pollinate other introduced crops and for their honey and wax. Thus, any bees living in the wild aren’t really wild but rather feral—domesticated bees that have escaped. They’ve adapted pretty well over the centuries to the American landscape, yet media reports on found hives almost always swing toward the sensationalist. “The public has a very skewed idea of bees,” Martha says. “It’s all the fault of hysterical movies and the media.”

Public perception is changing, though. Last summer, TheOrange County Register ran an article about how Cox Communications saved a swarm of approximately 50,000 bees from one of its cable-equipment boxes in an Irvine neighborhood by enlisting a bee rescuer. The comments for the online version of the story were congratulatory and positive. Actually, only one commentator had a problem with the piece: David Marder. His company, Bee Busters, is based in Laguna Beach and has as its logo a knock-off of the iconic Ghostbusters logo: a screaming bee crossed out with the obvious slogan “Who You Gonna Call?”

Who you gonna call? Marder in his Bee Busters uniform
Jennie Warren
Who you gonna call? Marder in his Bee Busters uniform

Without having once visited the Cox Communications cable box in question, Marder sparred with bee enthusiasts on the Register website, arguing the Cox colony should’ve been exterminated because they were probably Africanized—in other words, they were the “killer bees” of so much late-’80s media hype. But Marder didn’t stop there. An employee of his wrote a letter to the Register in his name that wasn’t published by the paper, but appeared on the employee’s blog. It read, in part, that the paper’s “continuing encouragement of live removals is misleading and unwarranted. Overhype of CCD by reporting extreme cases as if they were the norm actually does the Register’s readers a disservice and leaves them less informed than they started.”

Bee Busters also issued a press release ridiculing bee rescuers. “’You should never allow someone to work with bees on your property who is not properly licensed and insured. It’s just too much of a liability,’” the press release quoted Marder as saying. “Recently, a swarm rescued by Orange County Beekeepers Association members and given to a hobbyist beekeeper resulted in the death of a pet dog. . . . Bee Busters technicians have had a number of calls to clean up removal attempts that had been botched by volunteers.”

Marder still can’t get over the Cox Communications bee rescue. Last month, he fired off a letter to Bee Culture, one of the two major beekeeping journals in America. Marder criticized the magazine for running a positive piece on Cox, asserting that the bees spared from exterminators were “almost entirely Africanized” and that moving them to “hobbyist beekeepers’ yards in residential areas poses much more serious risks to nearby families” than pesticides. Marder also claimed that many county agricultural commissioners and university entomologists “have publicly stated that any feral honeybees in areas of Africanization should be treated as Africanized and dealt with by pest-control professionals.

“In conclusion,” Marder wrote, “Cox’s ‘safe and humane’ idea does not benefit the honeybee population and may put families in danger.”

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Cox actually had consulted before their rescue with UC Davis bee experts. In a July e-mail obtained by the Weekly, one researcher dismissed Marder’s doomsday scenario. Although stating that any colony that threatened the public needed extermination, professor emeritus Robbin Thorp quickly added, “I am not a fan of blanket extermination of all feral colonies based on the supposition that they may be Africanized. If feral colonies are not a threat to public health and can be removed and managed by a competent beekeeper to where they pose no threat to the public, I do not consider this ‘a backwards idea,’” as Marder had insisted about the Cox matter. Such bees, Thorp added, might be hardier than the commercial bees that farmers increasingly use to pollinate their crops and that seem to die off in greater numbers than those kept by amateur apiarists. “Preservation of such stock,” Thorp wrote, “may indeed be of value in the future to honeybee-breeding programs.”

Marder is a controversial figure in local beekeeping circles, but an influential one. He’s the former president of the Orange County Beekeepers Association and currently serves as vice president; his employee, Amy Cripps, is the group’s secretary. He’s the type of guy who name-drops scientist friends and previous trips around the world in the name of bees, and he dismisses the idea of colony collapse disorder as “nonsense.” Although he still keeps hundreds of hives, his main money-maker is exterminating bees.

“I don’t like eradicating the bees,” Marder insists. “It makes me physically ill.” But when dealing with “a volatile, flying insect like [Africanized bees], you have to keep the public safe.”

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