- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

HOUSTON (AP) - The neat two-story house in the 16000 block of Tiburon Way had been vacant for the longest time.

Area residents eyed it anxiously, hoping that a friendly family would soon become their neighbors.

The Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1eJry87 ) reports one day, the house was empty, eerily quiet, and the next it was abuzz with its new occupants - maybe as many as 60,000 of them.

Honeybees, residents of the normally tranquil southwest Houston neighborhood soon discovered, are the raucous rock stars of the insect world. Ensconced between the floors of their new digs, they filled the night with a menacing buzz. When neighbors ventured too near, the bees pinged through air like exploding popcorn kernels.

The bee house’s nearest neighbors, Angela LaFord and Melzena Banks, canceled their planned July Fourth barbecue and uneasily monitored the next-door doings through securely locked windows.

Despite their scary qualities, agriculture experts say, bees may be man’s greatest ally. Without them, Albert Einstein once observed, “mankind would have only four more years of life.”

The collapse of bee populations around the world - resulting from disease, parasites and insecticides - has led to similar warnings of a crisis in foods grown with the help of insect pollinators. Beekeepers have reported losses of up to a third of their bees in recent years.

Tranquility returned to Tiburon Way on Wednesday afternoon in a most unlikely way as tattooed, dreadlocked Walter “Bee Czar” Schumacher and his American Honey Bee Protection Agency associates arrived in a bee-striped minivan loaded with scaffolding, saws, smoke canisters and a low-power industrial vacuum.

Called to the scene by Houston City Councilman Larry Green, the team’s goal was to locate, calm, capture and then move the bees to a five-acre bee refuge on the city’s east side.

Based in Austin, Schumacher’s nonprofit organization has been in the bee-rescue business for nine years. It has established educational programs in the capital city’s public schools, turning students into junior bee keepers who profit by selling honey and bee-related products.

In the past year, the group’s range has expanded to Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth.

In Austin, volunteers typically relocate about 500 swarms a year; in Houston, about 250. Requests for assistance can be made at [email protected]

Schumacher’s group learned of the Houston bee infestation through a television news broadcast documenting the eradication efforts of an exterminator at another bee-infested Tiburon Way residence.

“They were trying to make it out as a killer bee issue,” said Cameron Barnette, the group’s Austin operations manager. “That’s when we sent our press release to the Houston City Council. We could save those bees so easily.”

In 2011, the city of Austin passed a resolution asking owners of bee-infested properties to seek help from live-capture beekeepers like the American Honey Bee Protection Agency before turning to pest control professionals.

In Austin, Schumacher said, the city routinely turns to his group to handle bee emergencies. The bee protection group works for free or for small donations.

Schumacher said he hopes Houston City Council will follow Austin’s lead.

Councilman Green will meet with Schumacher’s group to explore the possibility, said Claude Foster, constituent service director for Green’s Council District K. “His primary concern is for safety and health issues in the community,” Foster said. “Whether or not he supports extermination or removal, he hasn’t had that conversation yet.”

Wednesday afternoon, Schumacher’s bee rescue effort - he was assisted by Houstonians Michael Hanan and Chris Close - was the best show on Tiburon Way. Up and down the block, residents settled on porch chairs to watch the action.

The bee men quickly ascertained that the insects had taken up residence between floors on both ends of the vacant house. As neighbors gathered on the lawn, photographing activities with their smartphones, the bee crew stripped siding from the house to reveal a series of honeycombs, each the size of a dessert plate. Carefully they stored the honey-saturated segments for use in the bees’ new hives.

Schumacher said the bees probably had been in the house about 45 days.

LaFord, Banks and other area residents moved closer for a better view. Exclamations of surprised delight arose as the bystanders sampled the golden liquid dripping from a small segment of honeycomb passed through the crowd. “This is the taste of your neighborhood,” Schumacher said.

“They made that?” one woman said. “Isn’t God’s work beautiful?”

___

Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide