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JBLM honeybee hobbyist brings new home to bees, new hope to veterans

Shane Hunter, right, a metalworker with the Directorate of Public Works at JBLM and honeybee enthusiast, holds up a slab of honeycomb covered with bees. Photo Credit: Pamela Sleezer, JBLM Public Affairs?

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD - Employees with the Directorate of Public Works are often called to assist with repairs, engineering work and for maintenance on the installation they serve, but recently at Joint Base Lewis-McChord they added the title of "honeybee rescuers" to their list of services.

Jamal Brown, pest controller with DPW at JBLM, said he was contacted when a large hive of honeybees was discovered behind a roll up door at a building on base.

"The hive presented a tough situation," Brown said. "The hive was located on a door that was used a lot by the unit, and we were told at least one service member had been stung while standing near the door. We knew it had to be moved, but we also understand the importance of honeybees and wanted to make sure we didn't hurt them in the process."

The importance of honeybee populations and the need to protect them is a growing concern across the globe. As one of the most efficient pollinators in the world, honeybees are a vital component to the ecosystem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybees pollinate at least $15 billion worth of crops in America each year. Without them, it is estimated that half of the food in grocery stores across the nation would disappear.

"We definitely do not consider them pests," Brown said. "I knew this was something that required some expertise."

So, he called in someone he considered to be a local honeybee expert, co-worker Shane Hunter. Hunter typically does metal work for DPW, but in his personal time he has been keeping and caring for honeybee hives over the past five years. He began the hobby, he said, to help manage his post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours of duty in Iraq.

"I first began looking into beekeeping after I read a study published by the University of Michigan," Hunter said. "There has been a lot of research done that shows how therapeutic beekeeping can be for veterans, and for me it's been true. Since I started beekeeping, I've been able to reduce the medications that I take for PTSD."

Hunter learned how to establish his own hives through a local program, Valor Bees, founded by fellow veteran Dustin Leishman out of Roy.

So far, Hunter has relocated nine hives from JBLM, and he said this extraction was no different. As he began to pull back the boards surrounding the hive, he calmly but steadily removed layers of honeycomb as the bees buzzed around him. Remarkably, they did not begin to attack him.

"They're very calm," Hunter said. "All of the bees I have encountered on JBLM have all been calmer and more relaxed than others."

Hunter placed the honeycomb he removed into an empty wooden hive box that will be the new home for the bees. The most important part of the process is locating and extracting the queen bee, because without her the hive will almost certainly die.

"In a sense, she is the hive," Hunter said. "She's not easy to spot, and it's a lot like finding Waldo; but finding her is very important."

His efforts paid off, and Hunter safely placed the queen in her own secured enclosure so that she can be transported with the hive to their new location, which will be in the care of another veteran that Hunter is helping teach the beekeeping ropes.

"All the hives I remove, I give to newbie beekeepers that I'm helping, just like I was helped by Valor Bees," Hunter said. "It's my way of paying it forward, I teach these other veterans about how to get started because I know how much this can help them. So, you know, it's helping the honeybee and hopefully making a difference in building their numbers back up, while also helping make a difference in the life of a veteran."

Click here to check out a cool video of the honeybee extraction on Instragram.

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