SAFFORD — “Beekeeping is a labor of love more than anything, because there’s a lot of work. I don’t go out there without getting stung,” said local beekeeper Clyde French.
But French said his work has suffered because unknown parties have been stealing honey and bees from his hives and destroying the hive boxes. French told the Courier he reported this to the Graham County Sheriff’s Office last year. Near the end of June, he contacted the GCSO again regarding continued thefts.
French said he started with 31 active beehives at one site and was down to six, adding that there was more than $4,000 in damage to the boxes.
“They’ll come in, they’ll take my hives apart, they’ll take a bunch of bees and the queen and put them in their boxes and hide them somewhere,” he said.
French added that he and beekeeping partner Denise Williams lost around $60,000 in bees and bee equipment last year, and estimated this year’s losses at $70,000 to $80,000. He said thieves have also made off with game cameras he put near the hives.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen it this bad; it’s over the top,” he said. “What they did last year was load up a bunch that was just outside the bee yard, take the frames out, just throw the boxes down and take off. Before that, they took a vehicle in there, stole a bunch and ran over a bunch.”
French said he had plans to take his bees to almond groves in California, plans that have been dashed by the ongoing theft. According to the GCSO report, the number of damaged boxes at one site was too high to count.
“This year has put a really big hex on me. I just can’t get ahead,” he said.
But French, who said he donates honey to such community organizations as the Safford Fire Department and Boys and Girls Club of the Gila Valley, doesn’t plan to give up.
“With the honey I have, I’m still going to help my community. I’m not going to stop being a beekeeper. I got into beekeeping to teach my grandkids a work ethic and spend some time with them,” he said.
“I don’t want anybody to go to jail. I just want it to stop,” French added.
The thefts remain under investigation. Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred said areas where the hives are located are being patrolled, but there have been no arrests or suspects.
“I wish I could come up with a suspect for them,” Allred said. “I don’t know if it’s someone from out of the area or locals, but we haven’t caught anyone yet.”