Colorado’s industrial giants are making room for beekeeping, saving the population

IBM, Google and other corporations are allocating budget lines to support Colorado’s bee population, hives at locations across the state, in a business move that supports a critical part of the nation’s food production system.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the number of honey bee hives in the United States has declined from 6 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million last year. As the state with the fifth-most bee diversity in the nation, Colorado is home to approximately 950 bee species that go to work pollinating both agricultural crops and native plants.

Without them, the systems people rely on every day would suffer, including the food supply and ecosystems that provide clean air and stable land. One solution: Support colonies wherever possible—from the average American’s backyard to the corporate rooftop.

Industry giants in Colorado turned to Free Range Beehives, a corporate beekeeping company headquartered in Denver, to help guide their efforts. The business provides on-site beekeeping services to clients large and small, including real estate developer Sterling Bay, manufacturer Gates Corp., Colorado Public Radio, UMB Bank and the University of Denver.

John Rosol, co-founder and chief beekeeper of Free Range Beehives, removes a frame of bees from a beehive on October 06, 2022 in Sterling Bay West. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“Our investment in Beehive Colorado is part of IBM’s overall commitment to environmental sustainability,” said spokeswoman Carrie Bendzsa. “Pollinators play an important role in maintaining a diverse ecosystem, and small efforts like this can have a really meaningful impact on pollinator well-being.”

Bendzsa added in a statement that IBM’s formal commitment to environmental sustainability begins more than 50 years ago with its corporate environmental policy. He emphasized conservation and biodiversity as corporate values.

Google’s partnership with Free Range Beehives to install beehive boxes helps the corporation both support local businesses and protect the natural ecosystem, a spokesperson said.

They’re not the only ones focusing on pollinators locally and nationally. Giant Eagle, Walmart and Whole Foods were ranked as the top three U.S. grocers taking steps to address the use of pesticides that pose risks to both bees and humans, according to the Earth’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard.

In addition to pesticides, threats to bees include climate change and invasive mites, says John Rosol, co-founder of Free Range Beehives.

“We still have to save the bees,” he said. “Managed hives in Colorado alone lose 42% of their colonies each year, and that’s not a sustainable number.”

His company works with about 15 clients, caring for about 70 hives in the field. At their peak in July and August, the hives hold 50,000 to 60,000 bees each.

“We put the bees down,” Rosol said. “We maintain them, we own them, and the customer can keep them as long as they want.”

Rosol described beekeeping as a “land-dependent profession” where the climate and seasons affect the insects in different ways. For example, the Centennial State differs from California or Texas in having harsher, longer winters and shorter growing seasons.

Colorado also has elevation, unpredictable weather, dry weather, and a high plains desert climate.

The state has a strong beekeeping community, with the Colorado Department of Agriculture highlighting the “large number of hobbyist beekeepers,” or those with fewer than 150 hives. Rocky Mountain Bee Supply at 24 S. Walnut St. in Colorado Springs provides beekeepers with bees, hives, supplies and more, and To Bee or Not To Bee at 8280 West Coal Mine Avenue #16 in Littleton offers beekeeping classes and supplies.

Free Range Beehives was founded in 2020 by a father-son duo. The team not only installs the beehives and regularly inspects them, but also offers educational presentations, hive tours and honey extraction from the colonies for their customers’ workers to take home.

“Companies use it to demonstrate to their employees, communities and the state that they are good stewards of the environment,” Mathias said.

Bees also provide “good marketing and PR opportunities,” he added.

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