By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
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.”
He was once like the Backyard Beekeepers. “When the threat of Africanized bees first came about, I was adamant about the government not destroying [feral] bees,” Marder says. “I was passionate about keeping the bees. My belief was that if you had a huge gene pool, you’d be able to dilute the ‘mean’ gene. But science proved it not to be the fact.” He claims Mussen himself told Marder to stop rescuing feral colonies and giving them to other people.
Then there was the lawsuit. In 2000, Marder was called by the Freedom Village retirement community in Lake Forest to rid it of bees. Bee Busters set up a trap in a tree; it fell, and the unleashed swarm stung 77-year-old Jackie Wright more than 500 times. She sued Marder for negligence. The case was eventually dismissed, though Marder accepted full responsibility for the attack.
“God bless people who want to do live removal—they think they’re doing a good thing, and maybe they are, but they have to do it the right way,” Marder says. He points to the California Structural Pest Control Act, which allows live removals without a license but requires $25,000 of insurance to cover any accidents. Violating this can result in fines starting at $1,000 and even jail time. Marder claims he was once arrested for such a violation.
“When you have bee hobbyists engaged in structural pest control, which is my bailiwick, I have a problem. They’re breaking the law, and that’s the way it is,” he says. “I would love nothing more than [feral] bees to be workable and manageable in a working environment, but when you are in a region declared Africanized, that’s it. Placing such bees without trying to requeen them [the process of introducing a new queen into a hive] in order to tame them is the equivalent of placing a rattlesnake in your neighbor’s back yard. A flying rattlesnake.”