Andy Strehlow felt a deep and acquainted sting when he noticed the beehives had been lacking.

Simply days earlier than, the bees had been trucked greater than 1,700 miles from his bee farm in South Dakota to a sprawling almond orchard close to Firebaugh in Fresno County. He’d unpacked the bins — 416 hives housing hundreds of thousands of buzzing bees — and positioned them strategically across the property so his bees might work their magic, pollinating the almond blossoms in time for a late-summer harvest.

Three days later, on Jan. 31, he sensed a niche — a dismaying silence the place bees ought to have been lively — and it didn’t take him lengthy to comprehend 96 hives had been lacking, openly kidnapped someday within the evening.

“I felt violated,” stated Strehlow, a business beekeeper who has grown Strehlow Bees Inc. into one of many largest beekeeping operations within the U.S. “Fairly probably it’s one other beekeeper, and that’s what actually stings about it: beekeepers stealing from different beekeepers.”

And it wasn’t the primary time his hives had gone lacking. Within the 25 years he’s been elevating bees, Strehlow estimates he’s had near 1,000 hives stolen. It was time, he thought, to take a stand.

So Strehlow is promoting a $100,000 reward for data on the bee thief — about 3 times greater than the 96 hives are price. He’s hoping that sizable sum is sufficient to get somebody near the wrongdoer — a spouse, sister, brother — to show him in.

“It’s not simply me, however for my mates,” Strehlow stated. “It’s extra essential to get the man discovered simply in order that he could be stopped.”

Late winter is a crucial time of yr for beekeepers and the Central Valley orchards that hire their providers. Pollination of the huge acreage dedicated to almonds alone requires many hundreds of thousands of bees. In Fresno County, the place almonds have lengthy been a prime crop, yielding greater than a billion {dollars} in annual income, bees are an essential asset within the native financial system.

However that high-value demand additionally creates a lurking hazard for reputable beekeepers, who may spend a complete yr gearing up for the pollination season. Too typically, February can be a time when criminals are likely to strike, taking beehives to promote or hire to keen farmers who could not understand the bees are stolen.

There have already been almost a dozen reviews of bee theft this yr, involving a whole lot of hives in Fresno, Madera, Glenn and Butte counties, based on knowledge compiled by the California State Beekeepers Assn.

About two miles from the Fresno orchard the place Strehlow’s hives went lacking, beekeeper Andy Beld had 96 hives stolen the identical evening, someday between 5:30 p.m. and daybreak the subsequent day. Beld informed Fresno County sheriff’s deputies he’d seen a Chevy 3500 flatbed truck with a red-and-yellow sticker and a yellow Hummerbee forklift each idling close by as he moved his hives. Strehlow suspects the identical one who focused Beld’s hives hit him and different beekeepers working within the county.

Whereas the sheriff’s division has not recognized any suspects within the rash of thefts, they think the wrongdoer is somebody with data of beekeeping, together with the right way to deal with and transport hives, stated Tony Botti, public data officer for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Workplace.

“It’s a constant factor we take care of,” Botti stated. Most instances, their investigations hit a lifeless finish.

Individuals unfamiliar with beekeeping may assume kidnapping lively hives poses a excessive danger of being stung. However hive thefts can occur rapidly and quietly. Working at evening, when bees are dormant, the thieves wouldn’t must put on protecting gear which may make them stand out. Using a forklift could make pilfering a lot of boxed hives a simple half-hour turnaround. The stolen hives can hire for anyplace from $150 to $200 apiece, bringing a profitable payday.

Whereas business beekeepers usually engrave their boxed hives with their names or enterprise logos, thieves typically discard the unique bins or repaint them with one other emblem. So some beekeepers are turning to GPS tracking devices and surveillance cameras to search out their hives.

Twine Anderson, a third-generation Montana beekeeper who works in Madera and Fresno counties throughout pollination season, is able to be a part of that development. Final week, he found 108 beehives lacking from a Fresno County orchard he’s servicing. He stated the theft will imply $40,000 in misplaced earnings.

“It hurts. It’s robust on the business,” Anderson stated. “It will be very good if we might catch these guys and put this to a cease.”

Anderson stated he doesn’t have the sources to supply the sort of reward Strehlow is floating. However he’s glad somebody is taking a stand.

“Nearly all of a beekeeper’s income is pollination, and it takes a complete yr of labor and funding to have your bees able to go this time of yr,” he stated. “In an hour, [thieves] are available and money out in your funding.”

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