honeybees

150K Honeybees Feared Dead After Driver Plows Through Vt. Beekeepers' Hives

It appears someone went offroading through farmlands on the outskirts of Burlington, smashing beehives as they went

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Police in Vermont’s largest city are investigating a crime that’ll surely leave you shaking your head — one believed to have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent honeybees.

"It’s just beyond imagination," beekeeper Ron Hernandez said Friday as he worked to secure a mess left by a destructive drive earlier this week.

Hernandez estimated 150,000 honeybees could be dead in a section of the Intervale on the outskirts of Burlington which is used for farming.

The deaths weren’t caused by mites or pesticides or habitat loss, which can also kill bees, but from something even more maddening to Hernandez: what appears to be some sort of twisted joyride.

"Someone must have stolen the vehicle, because obviously the owner of a new truck wouldn’t do something like this," Hernandez theorized.

The beekeeper said he received a frantic call Wednesday night telling him it looked like someone smashed the hives he and two friends manage in the Intervale for their business, BTV Honey. The destruction exposed tens of thousands of the pollinators huddling in their winter boxes to dangerous cold, Hernandez emphasized.

Hernandez said he raced to try to protect any survivors with sheets and burlap, using a headlamp after getting the call around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"Hopefully, there’s some bees living underneath these piles," Hernandez said Friday, surveying the damage to his apiary.

Burlington Police would later find a GMC pickup abandoned not far away, the department said Friday. BPD provided two photographs of the heavily damaged truck.

Burlington Police Department
The Burlington Police Department released photos of a heavily damaged GMC truck found not far from the Intervale Community Farm.
Burlington Police Department
The Burlington Police Department released photos of a heavily damaged GMC truck found not far from the Intervale Community Farm.

It appears someone went offroading and plowed right through the hives, according to victims who worked with the Burlington officers. Investigators are still looking into who might have done this — and why.

"Without them, we’re in big trouble," Hernandez said of bees, which are critical to the ecosystem because of their roles pollinating trees and many plants, including flowers.

The reckless ride didn’t end with the bees, according to the Intervale Community Farm. The suspect or suspects then tore into the property neighboring where the hives sit, messing up greenhouses belonging to the farm. 

An NECN news crew found small broken truck parts still scattered in the snow around a fence the vehicle smashed through and alongside a long greenhouse it mangled.

"What’s amazing to me is that they were still able to drive around," said Andy Jones, the manager of the Intervale Community Farm.

Jones said the work estimating damage to the impacted greenhouses is still underway, but he guessed the driver caused a few thousand dollars in damage to the property.

"This was very surprising and dismaying, but it doesn’t really call into question that this is a great place to be," Jones said of Burlington and of the Intervale Center, where many people cross-country ski or snowshoe in the winter. "We’re really fortunate to be here."

As for BTV Honey, which is also out thousands of dollars — plus a certain hit to this year’s honey harvest — Ron Hernandez said he sees this case as a cruel but isolated incident in an otherwise generally safe and supportive city.

"I feel like what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger," Hernandez said of the damage to his group’s hives. "We’re not going to give up, we’re just going to rebuild and make them better."

Hernandez vowed to bring in replacement bees, noting he will learn come spring if that high number of deaths he fears — again, 150,000 or so — in fact holds, or whether some can survive.

"I wish them good luck — I hope they make it through the winter," the beekeeper said of his bees.

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