A honey of a mission: Airmen help save, relocate 25,000 bees

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Earlier this month, Malmstrom Air Force Base encountered a wildlife phenomenon, and through perseverance and understanding, handled what could have been a sticky situation in the most natural way possible.

Airmen utilized quick thinking and humane treatment to save the lives of approximately 25,000 honeybees discovered near the combat arms training and maintenance range.

The bees were discovered in close proximity to an outdoor picnic area at the CATM range by Tech. Sgt. Rayce Schneider and Senior Airman Billy Hunt, both assigned to the 341st Security Forces Support Squadron.

“Sergeant Schneider heard the buzzing,” Hunt said. “It sounded like a bee buzzing by your ear, but multiply the buzzing by one thousand. At first, we thought it was just a few hundred bees, but it actually turned out to be a lot more.”

The Airmen then contacted Tech. Sgt. Freddie Belton, a member of the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron pest management.

“We called Sergeant Belton and he was able to help us out,” Hunt said.

According to Belton, he considered the option of exterminating the bees.

However, according to Dr. Elin Pierce, a 341st CES Fish and Wildlife biologist, exterminating such a large number of insects can be costly, and often involves using chemicals in the removal process and could also pose a risk to crop production.

When bees gather nectar from flowers, they move pollen from one plant to another, helping to pollinate approximately 80 percent of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the U.S., she said.

After assessing the situation, Belton then made the decision to contact Pierce to seek advice from a professional on how to best handle an unusual situation.

According to Pierce, the bees were clustered in a 3-foot-long “ball” hanging from a shrub that she estimated to be 10,000 bees in total.

“The bee swarm was on the move from a previous home to find a new one,” Pierce said after examining the situation with Belton. “During this phase they often stop to rest somewhere but they are not territorial, nor aggressive. It was possible to get within a foot or two without disturbing the bee swarm.”

Pierce recognized that the bees were in transit and considered her options.

“The swarm would have (to travel) a tremendous distance to find a new home,” Pierce said. “The fields east of Malmstrom Air Force Base have nothing but wheat (fields) with no structures for bees to build a hive in.”

According to Pierce, the honeybee population has been declining for several decades.

Pierce then reached out to retired Maj. Brian Rogers, a master beekeeper with the Great Falls Wanna-Bee Beekeeping Club, to see if a humane transportation of the bees to a suitable home were possible.

According to Pierce, Rogers was interested in relocating the swarm.

Rogers concluded that there were in fact more bees nestled further within the shrub, bringing the total estimated number to 25,000.

Being a master beekeeper, Rogers was able to remove the bees using a cardboard box with slatted interior and a lid. Rogers removed the branches the swarms were attached to and gently shook the bees off into the box.

Rogers was able to give the bees a new home where they could colonize in a suitable environment and continue to produce honey.

According to Pierce, it was all over in a short time and not one person was stung.

“I definitely consider it a win,” Hunt said. “Most people’s first instinct is to kill bees.”