Oregon’s ‘first honeybees’ abandon hive at governor’s mansion

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s “first honeybees” have abandoned their home at the governor’s mansion in Salem.

The Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association installed a hive this spring in the backyard of Mahonia Hall after pitching the idea to Gov. John Kitzhaber and his companion, Cylvia Hayes.

The bees seemed to be thriving as of two weeks ago, more than 60,000 bees were in the hive and beekeepers removed about 35 pounds of honey. But keepers told the Statesman Journal newspaper that the bees were gone.

“You can do everything humanely possible and still you can lose your bees,” said Richard Farrier, president of the Beekeepers Association. “It’s a horrible struggle.”

Farrier caught the governor’s bees from the front yard of an attorney’s house and has been caring for the insects along with beekeeper Fran Lushenko.

He suspects the bees escaped varroa mites, a parasite that feeds on the blood of bees and is known for spreading a virus that causes wing and abdominal deformities. As he examined the bottom of the hive Friday, Farrier placed a tiny reddish-brown mite in the palm of his hand.

“No wonder they get upset,” he said. “Those things chewing on you would drive you crazy.”

Honeybee researcher Ramesh Sagili, an assistant professor at Oregon State University’s Department of Horticulture, said mites, viruses and a gut parasite called Nosema are common reasons why beekeepers lose their colonies, especially between October and April.

Mahonia Hall has been the state’s official home for governors since 1988. Kitzhaber, however, has maintained his house in Portland and the couple does not live full-time at the south Salem estate.

Fred VanNatta, a member of the Beekeepers Association, said installing the hive at the governor’s mansion was a way to educate Oregonians about urban beekeeping.

“People are concerned when they see a colony of bees in their neighborhood,” VanNatta said. “The fact that there’s a colony of bees behind the White House and behind the governor’s house helps educate people that they aren’t dangerous.”

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