Hawai‘i County Council forwards beekeeping bill with favorable recommendation

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The Hawai‘i County Council was abuzz during an April 2 meeting of its Policy Committee on Health, Safety and Well-Being, moving forward a measure aimed at promoting beekeeping on the Big Island.

Image from Flickr

The council voted 6-0, with members Holeka Inaba, Matt Kāneali‘i-Kleinfelder and Jenn Kagiwada absent at the time of the vote, to forward Bill 144 with a favorable recommendation to the county’s planning director and two planning commissions for further consideration.

The measure, introduced by Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, would establish apiary management practices for sound and sustainable beekeeping and add apiaries to the list of allowable uses in 17 zoning districts, including all residential and agricultural districts, resort hotel district, all commercial districts, all industrial districts, open district and downtown Hilo Commercial District.

“We’re finally here,” said Kierkiewicz, adding the quest to put a measure like Bill 144 in place on the Big Island started even before she was elected to office in 2018.

She said the bill is an effort to update county code to reflect the reality of what’s happening on the ground, bring beekeepers into compliance and work in partnership with state and local government to make sure it’s something everybody can get behind.

“We all know that bees are incredibly critical to not just agricultural productivity, but really when you think about the balancing of natural resources in our local ecosystem, they play a very important role,” Kierkiewicz said. “So this bill, in a nutshell, would basically allow for beekeeping to happen in every zoning district around Hawai‘i Island.”


It only makes sense, she said. Bees don’t recognize agricultural vs. residential or resort zoning. It’s all open space for them to go and pollinate.

The set of best management practices established by the measure also would help guide any interested beekeepers in terms of proper setup so their apiary operations are safe, healthy and thriving.

An apiary is a place where bees are kept, especially a collection of bee hives or colonies most often kept for their honey.

Kierkiewicz worked on Bill 144 in collaboration with Big Island beekeepers, including hobbyists, small businesses and even queen bee breeders, and consulted the Hawai‘i County Planning Department and Corporation Counsel as well as the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture Apiary Division and Department of Health Vector Control.

She and her office also spoke with the Hawai‘i County Research and Development Department, as it plays a critical role in ensuring the island’s beekeepers have the support they need to get education and awareness in terms of setting up good apiary operations.


“We made sure to bring everybody into the loop,” Kierkiewicz said.

Allowing apiaries in all zoning districts would bring operations already underway, such as those at schools and in residential neighborhoods, into compliance. It also would remove an arbitrary setback of 1,000 feet from a major roadway for apiaries, instead allowing hives to be at least 25 feet from a property line or 15 feet if there is a flyover barrier in place.

The best practices outlined in the bill are nationally and industry-recognized.

Bill 144 would limit the number to 15 standard hives, those with a minimum of 8 to 10 frames per colony, on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. Beekeepers who have more than that number on smaller lots now would be able to request an exemption from the county planning director.

Hawai’i County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz

Council members did raise a few questions about the measure, including how apiary, hive and colony are defined and the number of hives on smaller lots. Other questions about code enforcement, clarifications of definitions, any possible health concerns and cleaning up some of the measure’s language and making sure invasive plant and flower species are excluded were also brought to Kierkiewicz’s attention by her colleagues.


They also wanted to make sure the measure lines up with state statutes. They also wanted to make sure people would be sent to the right department for assistance in the future and have enough resources to help.

They all, however, were in full support of the measure.

“Beekeeping falls close to my heart with my stepfather Bob Carey having run Kona Queen for decades and recently retired,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, adding that the needs of the island’s beekeeping community should be more effectively and appropriately reflected by county code.

Villegas said without bees, “we die, period, point blank, exclamation point.”

“Bees are the fundamental carrier, quite literally, of our life force,” she said. “So with all of you working so diligently, whether or not it’s in small capacities or large capacities, I’m just really heartened to see after all these years and these conversations for things to continue to grow and thrive in a hive.”

Kierkiewicz admitted that there’s still more work to do on the way to the bill’s final version, but she feels really good about the first iteration. The discussion during the April 2 committee meeting was just the first step in the process.

“I know the hard work that went into this bee ordinance offers clarity and guidance in terms of the best management practices and setbacks,” said Vanessa Houle, secretary and outreach coordinator for the Big Island Beekeepers Association who is also a beekeeper with 200 hives and owner of Big Island Meadery.

It’s been a 6-year process to get to the point this point. Howell has had to field emails and calls from confused residents about the beekeeping rules on the Big Island through the years. She said Bill 144 supports the beekeeping industry for all levels of beekeepers and looks out for the health and safety of residents.

“I believe this is a big step in the right direction in terms of the goal of supporting agriculture,” she said during the committee meeting. “As we know, honeybees are a vital part of our ecosystem, food supply and local economy. I encourage you all to support this ordinance as well.”

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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