Stolen bees make it home - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Stolen bees make it home

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In a state filled with agriculture and families dedicated to the industry, It feels good to know that your harvest has you set for the rest of the year. But what happens when you wake up, finding out your livelihood has been stolen? Well that's the story of one family.   Third generation bee keeper Lloyd Cunniff from Choteau lost nearly 500 beehives during a pollinating trip to California in January. Five months later, he was finally able to bring them home. 

First all of the recovered bees have to be quarantined. Cunniff said the bees have been traumatized and they have to make sure none of the hives are sick. They also have to check each hive's queen. Some of the original queens got replaced with more aggressive ones. He said this is a time consuming and costly process.

"It will take multiple years to recover and get all this stuff straightened back out and make sure they don't have diseases or anything like that. You can just recover from something like this is one year. It takes a couple of seasons at least," said Cunniff.

He said he is lucky his insurance was able to replace the stolen bees. But they are basically starting over. Lloyd said a number of other beekeepers in the area along with friends and family helped them get back into business. He hopes they can salvage most, if not all the recovered hives. Then they will possibly buy them back from the insurance company.

480 hives were recovered in California, When thieves got a hold of them they actually split them in half to create two hives therefore having more of a profit.

"30 years ago they paid 30 dollars a hive now they pay 200 and up. You know these guys stolen 480 hives one night and they got paid 200 dollars a colony to put them in the almonds,"said Cunniff.

When thieves split the hive in two they get 960 hives. At $200.00 a hive thieves can make almost $200,000 from one crop pollination round. 

"Then they turn around and sell all the bees off and get paid again so they make hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Cunniff.

In January Cunniff gave California  Law Enforcement pictures of his stolen hives which were sent all over the state.  He said during an investigation in California his hives were found. 
The case is being handled by the Agricultural Task Force in Fresno County. Cunniff said it's now become part of a bigger crime ring.

"They are Ukrainians  and the way I understand it a lot of them are refuges that came here five years ago, and they have turned to crime" said Cunniff

We reached out the the investigating officer in California to find out if and when there will be federal charges laid  but was unable to speak with him. 

The Cunniff bees are home and will be checked on all summer. Should they make it through the season Lloyd said he is going to be one happy beekeeper. 

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