BUTTE — A group of hobby beekeepers in Butte is working with county officials to update an outdated ordinance that will allow beekeepers to have hives in their backyards.
"We ended up discovering that we had a local ordinance that had become outdated. It had been passed in 1976 and it completely prohibited all beekeeping in Butte Silver-Bow," says Jennifer McCloskey, a hobby beekeeper and co-founder of the Butte Beekeepers Club.
McCloskey says the Butte Beekeeping Club has been working with the local animal control services department since the beginning of 2023 to update the ordinance.
"We’ve actually been looking at ordinances all across Montana, pulling the best practices from each of those ordinances and crafting our own local ordinance which will open up hobby beekeeping within certain limitations that work well within our community," says McCloskey.
Limitations include lot size and number of hives in relation to the lot size. Hives must be located 15 feet from property lines or have 6-foot fences around them, and hobby beekeeping will not be permitted on property adjacent to neighbors who have documented allergies.
"I’ll just stand here and watch them come and go, come and go," says McCloskey as she watches the busy bees zoom in and out of their hive on a warm fall afternoon. Their little legs laden with pollen, they only come out when the temperature is 55 degrees or higher.
McCloskey says owning bees is great but they must have a food and water source, so per city code, a hobby beekeeper must have 9,000 square feet for just one hive that hosts around 20,000 little bees.
While McCloskey is busy adding a sugar water combination and little pallets of bee food to the hive boxes, the bees zoom around her in a frenzy, pelting her beekeeper's mesh face mask.
But she doesn't react.
According to the Montana Department of Agriculture, the state is in the top five for honey production in the nation. Commercial beekeepers in the state transport millions of these little insects in and out of Montana following the changes in season.
But McCloskey's aviary seems to be more of a home, and when asked if she thinks of these little creatures who would sting her instantly if given the chance if she sees them as pets, she hesitates.
"Are bees pets?" She stops to think about the question before offering a resounding, "Yes! I have 20,000 bee babies and I absolutely look at them as my pets."
On its website, the Montana Department of Agriculture states that there are about 650 registered hobby beekeepers in the state of Montana. The state just recently required hobby or landowner beekeepers to register their aviaries, and they say hobby beekeeping can have practical, social, and educational benefits for Montanans willing to put in the work.
So, while Jennifer sees her bees as pets they also work for her, giving a boost to her garden.
"Unfortunately, they can sting you once in a while and they become sort of an unpleasant nuisance pet at that stage," says McCloskey. "I absolutely do think of them as my pets."