Is urban beekeeeping harmful or are there good practices to follow?

Is urban beekeeeping harmful or are there good practices to follow?

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I have found several newspaper articles on how good could be urban beekeeping both for the bees and for agriculture. Today I read this one: Urban beekeeping is harming wild bees saying that urban beekeeping is harming wild pollinators. I did not find a direct link to the paper, but it is probably referring to Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife. Unfortunately I only have access to the summary of the paper.

Are there good practices that could be followed to practice urban beekeeping without harming wild life (for example avoid placing hives close to a forest… ) or is it harmful in any case?

Beekeeping in urban areas often require that beekeepers supplement their colonies with feed since urban areas have, on average, very little forage available to sustain a colony year-round. There are usually very little in terms of wildlife (or wild pollinators) when it comes to urban settings. In contrast, suburban areas would have more to offer as there are often backyard gardens and unmanicured lawns that could provide food throughout the season.

The wild pollinators within suburban to rural areas are probably under the biggest threat from managed colonies, but the impact is also usually very difficult to assess. Even with the limited range of managed colonies forage (around 5km), there's usually not enough of the colonies stretched out across a wide area in such big numbers that it would out-compete with other wild pollinators. The wild pollinators are often solitary, with much greater foraging capacity. As such, they would just move away from any competing resource if they're unable to defend it themselves until the threat subsides.

Regardless of the location (urban, suburban or rural), best practices still include protecting your colonies against diseases and pests. If you don't you may end up losing your colony, or spreading diseases to other colonies or wild pollinators. Probably the most significant threat nowadays globally (except for Australia) would be Varroa Destructor. So, best practices here would include keeping on top of these mite loads to avoid it from spreading and/or overrunning your colony.

As reference, here is a visual capture of the article:

Keeping Bees in the City

Beekeeping is a fun and often very rewarding hobby. If you live in rural areas with a lot of agriculture, keeping bees is seen as a normal and often necessary practice. But given the fascinating and exciting nature of keeping bees, and concern for the plight they are currently in, it is increasingly common to find city-dwellers joining in on all the fun. Except for one problem, there are many towns and cities that have bans on beekeeping. New York City was home to an underground – or rooftop – movement of urban beekeeping that eventually led to an ordinance that made it legal.
In my local area, the small village of Mount Horeb completely banned beekeeping two years ago, while the big city of Madison recently legalized it with a very open-minded ordinance. Today for my National Pollinators Week series, I’m going to talk about the rights and wrongs of urban beekeeping.

Rise in urban beekeeping may be bad for bees, scientists warn

City dwellers who try to boost bee populations by keeping their own hives may be doing more harm than good, U.K. researchers warn.

The number of beekeepers in Greater London has tripled since 2008, reported Francis Ratnieks and Karin Alton, biologists at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex, in an article published this month in the Society of Biology magazine The Biologist. The density of bee hives there is now at 10 hives per square kilometer, about 10 times the average in England as a whole.

That means there might not be enough food — in the form of nectar and pollen — in urban areas to feed so many bees, especially since much of the city is concrete and mown grass, the report says.

"There's a lot of enthusiastic people out there who really want to help the bees," Alton told CBC's As It Happens. But, she added, "If you want to help elephants in Africa, you wouldn't just put loads more elephants out there if the habitat wasn't there to feed them."

Populations of honeybees and wild bees have been declining in Europe and North America. The problem has been blamed on a variety of causes, from pesticides to diseases, although Alton and Ratniek say the"most important one" is habitat loss.

Many city residents and businesses have taken up beekeeping in order to help boost bee populations. In fact, they have been encouraged to do so by the government conservation agency Natural England, which in 2009 backed the launch of a new artificial hive aimed at urban beekeepers.

In some cases, businesses such as restaurants have started beekeeping as a green initiative or team-building exercise for staff, the researchers noted. Alton suggested for that purpose, a fish tank in the office might be a better choice, noting that looking after bees requires "an awful lot" of time, training and commitment.

In addition to her concerns about bees starving if there isn't enough food for them, Alton worries that if their swarming isn't controlled properly by knowledgeable beekeepers, they can pose a hazard to the public.

She added that bee diseases can be transmitted more quickly in areas with a high density of hives.

Alton suggested that if people want to help the bees, they should think about how to create better environments — with more food sources — for the pollinators.

"British love … their perfect lawns with no dandelions, for instance, and clover," Alton said. "It would be nice to see much more planting of nectar-rich and pollen-rich flowers."

Five Reasons Why Urban Farming is the Most Important Movement of our Time

I love suburbia not for what it is, but for what it could be. While most other houses on my street have grass lawns, my yard sprouts zucchinis, tomatoes, pomegranates, kale, spinach, apples, figs, guavas, almonds, garlic, onion, strawberries, and more. Over 500 plant species all in all. We grow more than 3000 pounds of food per year on a plot of land the size of a basketball court—enough fruits and vegetables to feed my family of four year-round. Our house is part of a growing global movement of people involved in urban farming.

The simple act of planting a garden can shape issues like economics, health, and politics at the same time because food is an essential focal point of human activity. As the urban farming movement grows, here are five ways that it will transform our world

1. Renewed local economies. Local neighbor-to-neighbor commerce generally doesn’t happen in our communities. Residential areas almost never include common spaces where community exchanges might happen. Likewise, because selling homemade bread to your neighbors is illegal in most areas, the law discourages community commerce, and instead encourages you to purchase from the supermarket chain.

In my own community, the urban farming movement has reinvigorated local commerce. Instead of buying oranges, I now trade pumpkin for oranges from my neighbor’s tree. If urban farming continued to grow, it would cause a massive and positive economic disruption by introducing local food production that would compete with the corporate mainstream on price, quality, convenience, and level of service.

2. Environmental stewardship. Industrial agriculture is a major source of fossil fuel pollution. Petrochemicals are used to fertilize, spray, and preserve food. Plastics made from oil are used to package the food, and gasoline is used to transport food worldwide. Urban farming unplugs us from oil by minimizing the transport footprint and using organic cultivation methods.

While industrial agriculture often maneuvers to avoid paying for environmental externalities, urban farmers directly bear the ecological costs of their actions. This makes urban farmers better stewards of their land because they draw their nutrition from it. Rather than using chemicals that destroy soil biology, urban farming culture stresses sustainable organic techniques that enrich the topsoil.

3. A focus on local politics. Urban farming makes it clearer and easier for people to be involved in local politics by bringing issues that directly affect neighborhoods to the fore. Local regulations become far more relevant to the day-to-day life of a person attempting to cultivate their own food than most issues normally discussed on CNN. The growth of urban farming has already resulted in large-scale legal pushes like the California Cottage Food Act, which will allow people to legally sell certain homemade goods like jams and breads. Other neighborhood issues such as the raising of chickens, beekeeping for the production of honey, or the chlorination of water are already in the sights of urban farmers and environmentalists alike.

4. A revolution of health and nutrition. Increased awareness about the negative health effects of food from the industrial food chain is itself a big reason why urban farmers grow their own food. When you feed your produce to your family, you’re less likely to douse it in poisons. Local food has more freshness, flavor, and nutrient retention because it goes through less transportation and processing. As the urban farming movement grows, it will mean more accessibility to nutritious local food and more time spent doing the healthy physical work of gardening. This could result in less obesity, less chronic disease, and decreased healthcare spending.

5. A flowering of community interaction. Urban farming is a lifestyle inherently centered on community. Growing food is, after all, a cooperative effort. In my own community, I see that the knowledge of how and what to grow is exchanged, seeds are swapped, labor is shared, and the harvest is traded. As urban farming grows, a stronger interdependence within communities is likely to result as local food systems bring more community interaction into people’s daily lives.

The most important movement of our time. Although there are many other notable initiatives today, the influence of urban farming is uniquely widespread because more people live in cities than rural areas and food is a central necessity that affects everything at once. The seeds of change are already being planted in homes like mine across the world. For these seeds to grow and blossom, we need to demand more local food so that the market for urban-grown produce expands. We also need to put pressure on our legal system to allow easier local trade and more local food production.

Imagine if we grew food instead of grass. Every community is a local food economy waiting to come to life. The answer to climate change, the health crisis, and the recession economy is right outside your door. I’ll meet you at the garden fence.

CATCH THE BUZZ – Too Many Bees, No Matter Where, Can Be A Bad Thing for Bees, Beekeepers and Anybody in the Fecal Flight Path.

THERE’S lots of discussion about whether we have pushed past hard limits in the case of dairy farming, but have we gone past “peak bee”?

The Great Springvale Bee Standoff is back and you’ll see more complaints about bees causing a nuisance in town.

There were 27 complaints made to Whanganui, New Zealand, District Council last year about bees in the urban areas. WDC’s media release last month singled out urban hobbyists with a hive or two on the back lawn, as if the large numbers of commercial hives on the outskirts of the suburbs — particularly over winter — didn’t exist.

Whanganui is a major beekeeping area, thanks to all the mānuka growing on back blocks in our region. It’s lucrative enough that hives are being delivered by helicopter to remote sites and worth enough to prompt some dodgy behaviour.

There are lots of local beekeepers in this region, many of them with years of experience and longstanding relationships with landowners. Now, high prices mean beekeepers are chasing mānuka flowers across the country, trucking bees long distances.

This is stressful for bees and bad for colony health, not least because an extended diet of mānuka is not good for the bees who collect it! Plus, some believe it’s spreading treatment-resistant varroa, the mites which feast on bee larvae and can quickly overrun a colony.

There’s intense competition for sites, with some large beekeeping companies buying rather than leasing land.

Up the river, I’ve seen small paddocks without a scrap of bee forage on them. But there’s enough room to stack scores of hives, whose inhabitants fly over a fence or across the water into land someone else owns, which is covered in mānuka or bush.

Fences keep stock out, but bees don’t pay a bit of notice.

Some smaller operators are bitter about large numbers of hives being dumped in an area that is already fully-stocked. It means no-one’s hives do very well but companies with deep pockets can afford to ride that out for a season or two if it means securing a long-term profitable site to themselves.

I also learned of a case in 2016 where the forage was all on Māori trust land reverting to bush. Instead of dealing with the trustees, the beekeeper put his hives on the farm next door. There’s not so much as a thistle to forage from in the paddocks on that side of the fence, but that’s where the hives (and the rental payment) went. Meanwhile the bees head straight into the bush.

Unfair? More than a little. Illegal? No.

Because there is no legislation or regulation about size of apiaries, hives per hectare or locating apiaries on sites with sufficient forage to support those hives.

The WDC beekeeping bylaw says hives must be set back 40m from boundaries, roads and public places. That is sensible with regard to keeping people out of the immediate flight path, but cannot influence or control apiaries being established on sites without their own food source.

WDC has followed a number of other city councils in developing a bylaw that permits urban beekeeping, but it’s not feasible to expect local government to develop individual policies to regulate commercial beekeeping. This is particularly so given the ways hives are being moved around the country.

I’m not aware of the previous government showing any interest at all in developing regulations at a national level quite the contrary. Mānuka exports were viewed as a sweet success story. MPI was talking up massive growth in mānuka honey — from an estimated $75 million in 2010 to $1.2 billion per year by 2028.

And just where are the over-wintering sites and forage going to come from to support that kind of growth? Bees aren’t robots. Their plight is harder to understand than cattle in feedlots or hens in battery cages but the comparisons are not without merit.

Industry self-regulation was supposed to solve any problems, but there’s no sign of that working. The industry is fragmented and highly competitive. It is consolidating the largest operator runs more than 35,000 hives and 29 big companies control a third of hives. Not all beekeepers see that as a good thing.

The growth of the industry prompted UCOL to develop a certificate in apiculture in Whanganui — I completed the inaugural course in 2016 — and Land Based Training launches its own course next month.

Training more locals makes sense but most of the work is seasonal — and bloody hard work and very long hours. Filipino migrant workers have been filling the labour shortfalls but not necessarily given anything other than the most rudimentary training.

I grind my teeth every time I hear “backyard beekeepers” blamed for the spread of disease or whatever else threatens the industry. The industry needs to look at its own husbandry practices.

Meanwhile, if you care about ethically sourcing food, start asking questions about where your honey comes from.

■Rachel Rose is a local writer, editor, gardener and beekeeper. Sources (and a whole lot more reading on this topic) can be found at

What Rachel’s Article Is Referring To….

Bee poop
The article on “Bee Poop” affecting urban residences (Wanganui Chronicle 16 January, 2018) makes light of the dark side of man’s favourite insect.

Since 2015 when the Whanganui District Council’s bylaw legalised bee keeping within the City, there has been considerable growth in both hobby and commercial bee hive numbers and a subsequent increase in residents’ properties affected by bee excrement.

Over the past few months my neighbourhood became one such new target with the waxy yellow deposits peppering home windows and walls, drying laundry and vehicles. The deposits stick fast and are very difficult to remove.

Our aerial bombardment followed a commercial bee keeper placing 5 large hives nearby. With 50,000 to 80,000 bees per hive, they could be making in excess of one million flights per day potentially dropping their load soon after each departure.

The neighbours became distressed and perplexed by the ongoing deposits, having no idea what this stuff was or where it came from.

However, having spent 20 years bee keeping earlier in my life I knew all about it and when the neighbours found out they became very angry. There was certainly no hint of amusement.

Bee poop may sound funny, but it is anything but that when it affects ones own property.

And the chance of bee excrement affecting your property is increasing all the time, especially with the mushrooming number of rural and manuka bee keepers placing hundreds of hives near, and even within, the city during the winter where management is easier. In this instance, starving and lethargic bees can present additional nuisance to residents and last year the Rogers Street Kindergarten was also affected.

In our case, I tracked down an enthusiastic young bee keeper. He inspected our neighbourhood and was somewhat distressed when he realised what his little helpers had been up to.

He agreed to remove 3 of the 5 hives. Council officers thought that was an acceptable approach. But the neighbourhood did not, after all, a 60 per cent reduction of an extreme nuisance is still a considerable nuisance, and Section 13.2 in the council’s 2015 Bylaw on Animals, Poultry and Bees, states that “…there shall be no nuisance caused by bee keeping…”

Fortunately we did not need to react further as these particular hives were on a rented property and when the owner was informed and shown their impact he directed all the hives be removed.

Bee nuisance is a growing problem and it seems that the council needs better advice and tools to deal with existing problems and to avoid future conflicts.

Bees Are In Danger, Here’s Why You Should Care

Bees are dying at never before seen rates due to an emerging threat called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. The first official account of CCD was reported in 2006 when Beekeepers began noticing a drastic increase in the disappearance of honey bee colonies in North America (with approximately 25-30% of colonies dying every year). There is no one single cause of CCD, but research points to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (commonly used on GMO crops) as the main culprit. Other factors include the invasion of varroa mites, and the impacts of climate change. To note, New Zealand has not recorded the same increases in Colony Collapse Disorder that have been seen in North America. For New Zealand bees, weather extremes that affect the delicate Manuka flower have been the bigger threat.

What are neonicotinoid pesticides and why are they harmful to bees?

Neonicotinoid pesticides have a similar chemical structure to nicotine. Plants absorb the pesticide, which is toxic to bees but has low toxicity to humans and other mammals, and transfer it to insects through pollen and nectar. Neonicotinoid pesticides act on insects’ central nervous system, interfering with honey production, their ability to navigate and fly, and their reproductive capabilities, resulting in paralysis and eventually death.

Bees are at risk, how does this affect you?

We rely on honey bees for nearly ONE THIRD of our entire entire food supply. Foods like avocados, almonds, apples, coffee, oranges, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and garlic would not exist without bees to pollinate them. Bees also play a vital role in our global ecosystem. Plants depend on bees to reproduce, insects depend on plants for food and shelter, small animals depend on insects for food, larger animals depend on small animals and plants for food, shelter and medicine - and so on up the food chain. A world without bees will affect every aspect of our way of life.

How can you help save the bees?

It’s not just up to beekeepers and farmers to address the plight of bees. There are simple steps that you can take right now to make the world friendlier for bees. Start by creating a bee-friendly garden (Learn how here). When treating your lawn or garden, avoid using chemicals and pesticides. Plant bee-loving flowers and herbs such as lavender, rosemary, sage, sunflowers, redbud, catnip, aster and echinacea. And buy your honey from sustainable companies!

What are Comvita’s sustainability practices?

Healthy bees and honey start at the source. Our hives are located far from pollution and agricultural sprays in remote forests in New Zealand, a country free of Genetically Modified crops. While our bees are busiest during the Manuka flowering season (typically September through February), we ensure our bees are looked after and hives protected throughout the year. Comvita also owns a queen bee-rearing facility to ensure that our bee colonies have good genetic diversity, high productivity and youthful Queens, all of which contribute to healthy hives. To learn more about Comvita’s sustainability practices, check out the article here.

Public Lands for the Public Good

Many beekeepers believe they have a right to keep their bees on public lands or conservation tracts. However, many biologists believe that such lands should be set aside to allow native pollinators a place where they need not compete with managed livestock. After all, the idea of providing undisturbed habitat for native species was one of the primary reasons such lands were set aside.

I’m reminded of a man who was caught stealing duck eggs from a wildlife preserve and selling them at his local farmer’s market. In many ways, selling honey harvested from public lands is no different. While selling honey from a preserve feels “okay,” selling duck eggs from the same place seems preposterous—over the top wrong. But they basically come down to the same thing: one individual making profit by harvesting from taxpayer-supported property.

We need to stop and think. If representatives of public lands, and that includes voters, have decided that honey bees are not wanted on a particular parcel, is it ethical to line the margins of that parcel with bee hives? Similarly, if jurisdictions or private entities are paying for the upkeep of parks and cemeteries, is it ethical to seed them as you see fit?

101 Fun BEE Facts About Bees and Beekeeping

This little lady is collecting nectar from a coffee flower. This image was taken by Geraldine Wright.

Honey bees are tied to so many facts and historical events. Bees are some of the most studied creatures and written about animals. There is always something new to learn about honey bees and their impact on our society over the years. Here are some awesome facts to keep in mind as you learn more about honey bees.

  1. The practice of beekeeping dates back at least 4,500 years
  2. Approximately one third of the food we eat is the result of honey bee pollination
  3. In their 6-8 week lifespan, a worker bee will fly the equivalent distance of 1 ½ times the circumference of the Earth.
  4. A productive queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs per day.
  5. Mead, which is made from fermented honey, is the world’s oldest fermented beverage.
  6. A single bee will produce only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. .

This little lady is collecting nectar from a coffee flower. This image was taken by Geraldine Wright.

When elephants bump into the fence and disturb the nearby hives, the sound of bees causes the elephant to flee. This is a safe way to keep elephants safe from being hunted due to their ability to destroy crops.

The bee was a symbol of immorality and resurrection. It was chosen so as to link the new dynasty to the very origins of France.

An androgynous figure trusts his/her life to three thin vines or grass ropes to rob honey out of a hive high up on a cliff wall. Slung over the shoulder is a basket or gourd, ready to hold the sweet bounty about to harvested. Enormous bees surround the honey hunter, but none are depicted as stinging.

The Greater Honeyguide is not actually a “guide.” It is actually a species of bird found across the continent of Africa. It is being studied by some researchers in partnership with the Audubon Society.

In 1217, King Henry III (r. 1216–72) issued a new version of Magna Carta, together with a new charter dealing with the royal forest. It was in a proclamation of February 1218 that the name ‘Magna Carta’ itself first appears, in order to distinguish the Great Charter from its shorter forest brother. On 11 February 1225, at the same time as issuing the final and definitive version of Magna Carta, Henry likewise issued a new version of the Charter of the Forest. Thereafter ‘the Charters’, as they were called, were always linked together.

The Bee Enclosure Module (BEM) was an aluminum box designed to hold over 3400 worker bees and one queen for the student experiment “A Comparison of Honeycomb Structures Built by Apis millifera (SE82-17).” Investigators studied the effects of microgravity on the comb building activities of honeybees.

A single honeybee brain has a million neurons compared with 100 billion in a human. But, researchers report, bees can recognize faces. From the New York Times.

To start your adventure in beekeeping, you'll need protective clothing (a bee suit, gloves, and shoes to keep you safe), along with hives, a smoker (to mask bees' pheromones), a hive tool, a queen catcher, frames (for the foundation of your hives), and a bee brush (to remove bees from the frames).

In choosing the best online beekeeping classes, we evaluated 15 courses and compared them based on factors like format, price, and curriculum. We also considered each course’s intended audience, online learning platforms, and reviews from former students. Ultimately, we aimed to choose courses that would appeal to a range of Treehugger readers at a variety of price points.

Even Beekeeping Isn’t Immune to COVID-19

If any industry should be sheltered from the shock of COVID-19, it should be beekeeping. After all, beekeepers have been socially distancing since the day we picked up our hive tools. But on March 23, I got a call saying that my queen order, scheduled for arrival in late April, had been cancelled. Suddenly, beekeeping started looking a lot less sheltered.

For me, a cancelled queen order is not a big deal — it just meant that I couldn’t do the experiments I had planned. But for a beekeeper with skin in the game, a cancelled or delayed order could be a substantial setback to their bottom line.

Canadian beekeepers rely heavily on imported packages and queens early in the season, before domestic production begins. In British Columbia, the province with the mildest winters, the first round of packages arrived in the middle of March from Tasmania, Australia, before the global distribution chain had been broken.

But other provinces have longer winters, and packages don’t usually arrive until later in the spring, when most flights were already grounded. And as the season advanced, demand for queens increased for making early splits before local queens were ready. This year, that demand fell on uncertain circumstances.

“You quickly realize how complex the economy is,” says Martin Regan, co-owner of Aussie Bees Canada. In Australia, laborers now have to quarantine for 14 days when moving between states. And since most workers are not locals, it has been hard for queen and package businesses to stay operating, let alone transport their product overseas.

“Queens should be able to come at the end of the month [April], but things can change so fast.” Regan says they’re working on getting an Air Canada cargo flight from Australia to Vancouver, Canada, but it depends on if it’s commercially viable for the airline and if there is a governmental or public need to transport other supplies.

Regan estimates that only 40% of Australian packages will arrive in Canada compared to last year. It’s a big drop, but Australia’s packages are a small fraction of Canada’s imports: Others come from Chile, but the overwhelming majority of Canada’s annual

40,000 package imports come from New Zealand. Producers there are still operating, but they can’t get their packages off the ground.

“We did get queens on a flight last Tuesday [April 14],” says Chris Bartel, co-owner of Bartel Honey Farms, who imports around 16,000 New Zealand packages every year. “We didn’t have time to put packages on it. It’s a good thing, because the departure time delayed three times and was rerouted to pick up passengers.” It would have been the death of the bees, he says, and he’s getting “less and less hopeful” about the prospect of future flights.

Bartel managed to import some packages in March, but only about 20% of their New Zealand package orders have been filled so far, and other importers are in similar situations. This is bad news for Ontario and Quebec beekeepers, who had larger orders this year to fill blueberry pollination contracts. Blueberries are Canada’s top fruit export, and production was expected to increase this year, since the market is recovering from the glut.

The growers don’t have many options. Some pollination contracts might still be filled using local bees. But, as Bartel points out, when beekeepers make splits to boost colony numbers for the following year, they use only one or two brood frames. If these splits are going into pollination this year, they will need to start with more brood. Beekeepers would get fewer splits out of their colonies, which could set their operations back for 2021.

The situation is grim for Canada, but American operations seem to be weathering the COVID-19 storm. Ray Olivarez, owner of Olivarez Honey Bees in California, says that, if anything, production is up over last year due to better weather.

“We’re happy to be working,” Olivarez says. “We want our employees to feel safer at work than they do at home.” They have had to hire extra workers because social distancing measures make some aspects of the operation less efficient, and they have lost some workers who needed to stay home and look after family members. But overall, queen and package demand has been steady, labor has been sufficient, and the weather has been favourable.

Key factors to Olivarez Honey Bees’ success are that they don’t rely on annual package imports from the southern hemisphere, they tend to hire local workers so they aren’t suffering from labor shortages, and their main business is domestic supply of packages and queens, rather than exports. They do supply Canada with queens, but Olivarez says that’s mainly for the sake of diversification.

At the time I spoke with Olivarez, in mid-April, they had already shipped packages as far east as Wisconsin and Ohio, and it doesn’t look like their distribution system will be disrupted. “Shipping hasn’t changed for us so far,” he says.

Kona Queens, which normally supplies Canada with tens of thousands of queens, had a temporary shipping setback. The first round of queens destined for British Columbia wasn’t shipped because they couldn’t secure a connecting flight from Edmonton to Vancouver. But they are trying a new transportation strategy of flying the queens to Seattle and driving them across the border.