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Colony rescue

TALENT — Applause filled the air as a large honey bee colony 20 feet up in a tree in the 200 block of Gibson Street was extricated and placed inside a box Wednesday. Without rescue, the bees would have perished as weather got colder.

“That is the largest colony I’ve ever witnessed,” said bee activist and educator Laura Ferguson. She oversaw the operation that involved beekeepers, the property’s owners, the city and Charter Communications, around whose lines the bees had built their home.

An estimated 60,000 bees are in the colony, said Ferguson. It weighed about 100 pounds and was about 18 inches in diameter and 2-1/2 feet tall.

The operation seemed appropriate for a town that was designated the second Bee City USA in August.

Originally scheduled for pre-dawn on Thursday, when most of the bees would be home, the 90-minute operation took place early Wednesday afternoon because of the rain. Cold and rain could have hastened the colony’s demise.

The containment box was transported to an apiary at Jackson Wellsprings near Ashland for the winter. Ferguson hopes to take the box with the colony on educational tours about pollinators. Constructed by Talent Public Works, the box has a window for viewing and openings so bees can come and go.

“This is an active, healthy colony that is creating honey,” said Ashland beekeeper Tony Corsini, who used a lift to prepare and remove the colony, assisted by city Maintenance Specialist Robert Slayton.

When surrounding tree branches were trimmed, golden cascades of honeycombs could be seen down the upper length of the colony.

Corsini delicately cut into the side of the colony to remove two Charter Communications lines that bees had built around, while Slayton smoked the bees with burning lavender. Dolly Warden, who spearheaded the effort to get the Bee City designation, supplied the smoking apparatus. Corsini carefully removed bees still on the wires and returned them to the hive.

Public Works Supervisor Bret Marshall then joined the other two on the lift for the final stages of wrapping a sheet around the colony and cutting the tree branch by hand before placing ends of the branch on the side of the lift’s enclosure.

“We did it! We did it! We did it!” exclaimed Ferguson, clasping hands with Mayor Bill Cecil as the box was lowered to the ground.

Once the colony was in the box, the sheet was removed. The colony slumped a bit as it was not at the same angle as in the tree, but Ferguson said the bees probably would repair it on their own.

Because of the bees' small size and light brown coloring, Ferguson said they might be Italian bees, which tend to be more docile. Warmer weather may have led the bee swarm to create the colony outdoors rather than seek shelter in a tree cavity, chimney or wall.

Colony construction may have started as early as April. Beekeeper Carol Young first saw the colony in early August. Since that time, it had nearly doubled in length, she said.

A cooperative effort led to the outcome, said City Manager Tom Corrigan. Other utilities made sure extraction wouldn’t be a problem with their lines. United Rentals gave the city a 50 percent discount on the lifts.

Margie Glatte, one of the home’s owners, had been a beekeeper. She was glad that the bees could be rescued, said Warden.

For more information on pollinators, contact Ferguson at laurafergusonabc@gmail.com.

Reach freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.


Robert Slayton, a Talent city employee, closes the lid on a custom box built for the honey bees. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Tony Corsini works to extricate a large honey bee colony from a tree on Gibson Street Wednesday. The colony was placed in a box that will shelter it from cold weather. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch