November 16, 2017
When most people hear about declining honey bee populations or collapsed hives, they likely don’t imagine a truck crash being the cause. However, that’s exactly what happened in Auburn, California around 7:00 pm on Thursday November 2. That night, the semi big rig truck that was hauling dozens of box hives down the Interstate 80 freeway was forced to bail off the interstate and onto a parallel side street after traffic suddenly became gridlocked and the trucker couldn’t slow down in time.
The crash caused the load to flip over and break off, crushing most of the hives in the process and killing a majority of the bees. The trucker, who has yet to be named in the press, was sent off for treatment at the hospital for a head wound. According to Newcastle beekeeper John Miller, "When they have an impact like that, they usually are sprung or damaged and really hard to salvage." Miller came to the scene of the crash soon after he heard about it on the news, offering the Auburn Fire Department his assessment of the bees’ chances for survival once he had it.
“The fire department is responsible for the public’s safety, and these bees will probably—if they were allowed to just stay there—would start flying and people would encounter the bees,” Miller told local news affiliates. Because the surviving bees presented a potential danger to the public, the fire department had no choice but to spray the debris, full of hive pallets, and drown out any survivors. According to Miller, he had seen this type of situation happen previously, and, in his expert opinion, there are no alternatives.
"It's a loss for the owners of the bees, and it's a tragedy for the hives themselves. And these bees were destined to do some pollination work next spring—fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts. It's a tragedy, it's sad," Miller continued. Reflecting the solemnity of the fire department’s decision is the fact that they contacted many other beekeepers to see if there was anything they could do to avoid drowning the bees, but, unfortunately, they all came to the same conclusion that the bees could not be saved. By their assessment, if this crash had happened in the afternoon, say around 3:00 pm, it may have been possible to save them, but the nighttime setting made that all but impossible.
Either way, firing their hoses at the ailing bees was likely the last thing the fire department wanted to do. It took them all night to clean out the crash site, which could’ve been much worse had the trucker not driven off the freeway as he had. As of this writing, the crash’s cause is still under investigation.
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