- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

TOWN OF DOVER, Wis. (AP) - For the last year and a half, Debi Fuller has kept thousands of bees in the backyard of her home.

The reasons are multi-fold. The bees greatly help her organic garden, pollinating the tomatoes, cabbage, herbs, cucumbers, peppers and other food she grows.

She also wants to help the plight of honey bees in the United States. Honey bees have been dying off at an alarming rate, raising concerns that food and the agricultural industry could be harmed, The (Racine) Journal Times (https://bit.ly/1zml8Bl ) reported.

There’s just one problem for Fuller: Racine County ordinances only allow honey bees to be kept in agricultural zones, not residential zones. Fuller said she was erroneously told they were permissible when she checked with the county prior to obtaining the colonies.

An ongoing dispute with a neighbor led to a complaint about the bees and the Racine County Sheriff’s Office issuing a citation for zoning violations, according to Fuller. While she found support from other neighbors and Town of Dover board members, Fuller still faces a fine of more than $300 and the prospect of losing her bees.

Fuller said she has hired an attorney and is fighting the citation in court. Her attorney has met with prosecutors; the citation may eventually wind up before a judge, though a court date has not been set.

Fuller may also work with county officials on an ordinance change to allow bees to be kept in residential zones.

“This is my right as a landowner … for propagating my organic garden, and I feel I have the right to produce food for myself and my family,” said Fuller, 58, a retired nurse.

Fuller’s bees live in two hives, which are stacked up like boxes behind her home.

Fuller and her husband, Ken, said they and their two dogs have never been stung. The non-aggressive bees may bump into them on their way to and from the hives, but they are mostly focused on collecting pollen, she said. They fly as many as 10 miles away from Fuller’s home if they find a good source.

“They’re extremely Zen to be around, and you develop a relationship with them,” Fuller said. “You truly do.”

She said honey bees are often confused with hornets and wasps, which are more aggressive and sting much more often.

“There’s a lot of paranoid people, and it’s a lack of education,” Fuller said.

Fuller is frustrated because she feels she did everything right in checking with local government and neighbors before she bought the bees.

She also has a passion for the bees and believes she is in the best position to keep them healthy. While agricultural-zoned land is near her, she worries the bees would be exposed to pesticides or harsh weather conditions if she tried moving them to a different location.

“I know that I can protect them over winter and all those other things much better when they’re in my backyard,” she said.

“I feed them. I provide them liquid sugar. I medicate them, I prep them for winter. All those things, to me, are part of my commitment to them to take care of them when I got them.”

The decline of honey bees has the attention of the White House. President Obama issued a memorandum June 20 urging a federal strategy to promote the health of honey bees.

“The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment,” Obama said in the memorandum.

Honey bee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States, according to the memorandum.

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Information from: The Journal Times, https://www.journaltimes.com

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