Bees' Rescuers Do Honey of a Job at Spill on Freeway

Times Staff Writer

It was a dirty, stinging job, but someone had to do it.

Two colonies of tired-out bees--maybe 40,000 in all--got bounced off the back of a truck and onto the Foothill Freeway in La Canada-Flintridge early Thursday.

Bees knocked to their knees doesn't sound like a great disaster, but California Highway Patrol Sgt. Walt Nowakowski said it could have been a very dangerous situation if the insects had been spilled onto the busy freeway when the temperature was a bit higher.

Thousands of bees, all stirred up by the rude loss of their home, can get madder than, well, hornets.

Bees buzzing into passing cars have been known to cause serious accidents, according to Nowakowski.

Fortunately, it was chilly when the two beehives fell off the as-yet-unidentified truck.

Even more fortunately, Los Angeles County Agricultural Inspector Michael Pearson, the county's official bee expert, and Glenden Scott, a hobbyist beekeeper from nearby La Crescenta, heard about the accident on the radio. They knew the possible consequences and headed directly to the scene to do the dirty job of cleaning up the insectile mess.

"I live in La Canada," Pearson said, "so I got into my safety coveralls, put on my bee veil and hat, my safety gloves and went right over. Glenden Scott got there just after me."

They found one of the beehives badly splintered, the other in pretty good shape, but with the yellow and black Italian variety of bees in considerable disarray, some crawling around stunned, some clustered together for warmth.

"They generally won't fly until it's about 56 degrees, and I imagine they'd been exposed to pretty cool temperatures. I think they were coming down overnight from Bakersfield, where they were pollinating the almond trees for the last few weeks."

Pearson said he and Scott rushed to the rescue because in some places--in Florida recently, for example--panicky road crews simply buried a bunch of bees alive because they were afraid of what they would do to motorists.

"Bees," Pearson said, "are very valuable creatures--contribute billions of dollars to our agricultural economy by pollinating crops."

Put in Foster Hives

So Pearson and Scott--who eschewed other safety gear, but did wear veils--simply swept up as many of the bees as they could and deposited them in the remaining, hastily repaired beehive. They took the bees to Scott's home, where they were placed in foster hives until the owner can be located to pick them up.

"We just swept them up, got about 50% of them back in the hives but a lot of them were overexposed and probably died," Pearson said.

Pearson said he got stung once during the task. "It's just part of the job," he said, not unlike a newly gored bullfighter.

The 71-year-old Scott, who was outside tending his adopted bees, couldn't come to the phone for comment. His wife, however, said he got stung several times.

"But he likes getting stung," she said. "It helps his arthritis."

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