Increasing value makes beehives target of thieves

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Growers say beehives are getting more valuable every year, and they suspect that’s why hives were the target of a recent large heist. Kern County Sheriff officers say 256 hives were recently stolen, and the case is still under investigation.

Detective Corey Stacy says a local farmer noticed some missing hives, and then managed to spot them and report it. Stacy says the grower's hives were in the north end of the county, and the hives were spotted far to the south -- near East Panama Lane and Weedpatch Highway.

"There's actually identifying markers on all the boxes that show who they belong to," Stacy explained. "So the victim was able to identify his boxes, and that they were stolen."

From Murray Family Farms, Steve Murray says bees are vital to many of Kern's most important crops.

"Your almonds, your peaches, your berries, your cherries -- just about every permanent crop that we have, has to have bees," Murray told Eyewitness News. Growers rent bees from beekeepers, and the cost of that keeps going up.

Murray says he paid $150 per hive last year, and this season it's $175. So, a crook renting out stolen hives could make a bundle.

"Whoever is stealing these hives, would take them, represent themselves as the owners, and get paid $40,000 to $50,000," Murray said. Plus, he said the thieves could then move the hives to a second crop, and earn that much again.

"Obviously, it's somebody who's going to be someone who's a beekeeper," Murray speculates. "Most people don't bother with (hives) unless you're a beekeeper, and you know what you're doing."

And, he speculates the crooks needed the right equipment. "You have to have semis to carry off that many hives, or a couple of trucks," Murray says. "So, it was a sophisticated theft."

He adds hives are set out in fields and orchards in often remote areas. So, they're an easy target. But, they're also an increasingly valuable one.

There are fewer hives to go around because many bees have been dying recently from "colony collapse disorder." Murray says in up to 80 percent of the hives, the bees have been found dead.

He also says the demand for hives gets greater as more almonds are planted. That crop really relies on bees for pollination.

The sheriff's department reports Gabino Jordan Pena, 32, was arrested for charges including possession of stolen property and destruction of evidence. Officers say the identifying marks had been removed on some of the hive boxes. Investigators set the value of the stolen beehives at $40,000.

Officers say hives from at least two beekeeping companies were found at the location on East Panama Lane. Investigators say the case is ongoing, and anyone with information is urged to call 392-4370.

Murray says the big hive heist is very unfortunate, especially since he thinks the thieves must be familiar with the farming community.

"I'd say most people in agriculture have extremely high integrity, and beekeepers are part of that equation," Murray said. "But, there's always going to be some outlaws out there, and looking for an opportunity."