Bee Suppliers Back to Bzzz-ness After USPS Ends Travel Restrictions

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In a sweet victory for bee suppliers, the U.S. Postal Service has lifted a ban on the shipments of honeybees from Georgia to waiting hives in the north.

The ruling overturned a policy instituted in October by a regional manager in Georgia that would have limited bee shipments to 600 miles, which is considered beyond the USPS' 4th Zone.

Every spring, millions of honeybees make their way to New England from southern breeders to supplant the northern honeybee stock killed by winter cold and parasitic mites. The honeybees are sold in packages of about 12,000 worker bees and a queen bee, and trucked in a wooden crate with screened sides via USPS trucks. A sugary syrup in a tin with holes feeds the bees on the trip, which is supposed to be made on ventilated trucks.

But bee shippers were stung by last October's decision to restrict the travel distance, which cut off a key route to their New England customers. Under the policy, southern New Jersey was the northernmost point that bees could be shipped from their Georgia home.

Tracy Peugh, manager of Business Mail Entry for the USPS's South Georgia District sent a letter to all the bee shippers and postmasters in his district that said the agency was "inundated" with complaints about bee shipments.

The problem, Peugh wrote, was that the syrup was spilling, causing a sticky mess in the trucks that often required steam cleaning. Furthermore, the letter said the USPS was receiving complaints of bees dead on arrival.

Bee suppliers and beekeepers were worried.

Consider Reginald Wilbanks, president of Wilbanks Apiaries Inc. Claxton, GA, which has been shipping package bees to hobbyists and small honey producers through the mail for 55 years. The apiary currently ships 15,000 to 20,000 packages of bees every year. About one-third of all bees Wilbanks produces are shipped by USPS, and the shipping season for bees takes place from the end of March through April and May.

"The loss of 5th Zone customers would mean an estimated $70,000 to $100,000 loss in gross income to me," Wilbanks said. "It means my customers will not be able to get bees needed to pollinate many agricultural crops."

Wilbanks said that bees are responsible for about $15 billion worth of agricultural crops annually, nationwide.

Moreover, he said the loss of 5th Zone customers means approximately $15,000 to $20,000 annual losses to the USPS.

Wilbanks, along with other beekeepers, and Troy H. Fiore Jr, the executive director of the American Beekeeping Federation Inc., appealed the decision. They contacted R. Wayne Graves, manager of the rates and classification service center for the USPS. Among other points, the beekeepers said that the USPS employees were mishandling the packages.

Wilbanks said that when he sent his price list to customers he encouraged beekeepers to pool their orders with neighbors or local beekeeping associations down to Georgia to pick them up. He said he also offered delivery service himself.

On Feb. 20, however, Graves sent a letter to Wilbanks that said the agency upheld his appeal. He also wrote that advance notice is the only additional requirement for long-distance shipment of bees under postal regulations. Graves also asked him to review packing to ensure it could withstand normal postal handling without leakage or damage to his packages, the mail of other customers, and postal equipment.

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