Journal of Alta California

PLIGHT OF THE HONEYBEES

REVEAL/THE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

The crime scene was a mess of boxes, some half-assembled, others scattered across patches of dried grass and partially gouged to raw wood. The victims scrambled about looking for food and water. There were thousands of them. Maybe millions.

Detective Isaac Torres watched the action from the air-conditioned safety of his unmarked truck. In five years investigating rural agricultural crime, he’s seen a lot: Stolen construction equipment and copper wire. Hay thieves. Cargo heists.

“You name it, we pretty much cover it, if there’s any type of ag nexus to it,” he said.

But what he was looking at now, in this scrubby field 10 miles southeast of downtown Fresno, was something else entirely.

“What we had here was a chop shop, but of beehives,” Torres said. “You had some beehives that were alive, and you had some hives that were dead. You had hives that were basically cut up: Tops of boxes were over here on this side of the field, and the other parts of the box are on the other side.”

As a member of the Agricultural Crimes Task Force for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Torres knew that bees have become big business in California — that they are an essential ingredient in the state’s yearly almond harvest; that three-quarters of America’s domesticated bees are trucked into the state each winter and rented out. He knew how valuable the insects have become — to farmers, yes, but especially to thieves, who in recent years have grown bolder, greedier.

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