Sierrita Solves Stinging Problem by Relocating Beehive from Fallen Saguaro

April 5, 2024

Environmental scientists at Freeport-McMoRan’s Sierrita operation came up with a honey-sweet solution to a stinging problem by arranging the relocation of a beehive from a collapsed saguaro cactus along a popular hiking trail on company land.

The cactus on West Desert Trails about 5 miles east of the Sierrita pit was a popular attraction for hikers and bikers. The area sits on company land open to public recreation. Aside from its age, size and tangled web of arms, the cactus had four crests, comb-like tips that are rare, said Tamra Baxter, Senior Environmental Scientist-Sierrita.

In the middle of the cactus trunk was a beehive, which had been there for years and never caused any problems, Baxter said. However, in February, the saguaro collapsed under the weight of its many arms, bearing down on the trunk weakened by the bee activity.

Word of the collapsed cactus spread quickly through social media – where company representatives learned of it – and an article in the local newspaper, Baxter said. The publicity drew a lot of onlookers, many of whom ignored warning signs and tape meant to keep them at a safe distance from the hive full of agitated bees. The risk of someone getting hurt dictated that the beehive would have to be removed.

“Maintaining pollinators is an important part of biodiversity, and it’s something that we want to encourage,” Baxter said. “So, for us it was an opportunity to look for a way to remove the bees and reduce that public safety hazard without harming a vulnerable species or impacting biodiversity negatively.”

A highly regarded beekeeper in the area, Monica King, was hired to handle the removal. King is a director of the Southern Arizona Beekeepers Association and specializes in beehive removals. She also is active in local education and community outreach activities to promote healthy bee populations.

When she removed the bees in late February, King used a special vacuum device, which gently sucked the bulk of the bees into a box. Once that was done, the hive was recovered and packed into boxes for relocation to a remote area near where King lives. King was assisted by three Sierrita employees during the two-hour operation that began about sunset: Baxter, Jessica Chen and Yvonne Arias, both Environmental Scientists I-Sierrita.

Representatives of the Tohono O’odham Nation also were contacted about recovering parts of the fallen cactus because saguaros have significant cultural importance.

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