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Wednesday, July 4, 2012 - 9:00am

New Rules Proposed For Chickens, Bees

Chatham County is preparing to make it easier for people to keep chickens and bees in their backyards.

A proposed change would clear up confusion and legal barriers in a growing national trend.

Savannah and Chatham County have differing and conflicting rules on backyard chickens.

As for backyard bees, the city bans them while the county doesn't have a rule.

Soon, both areas could be enforcing looser restrictions on both chickens and bees.

Cultural Resource Manager Ellen Harris of Savannah's Metropolitan Planning Commission says, officials are recommending a registration process for beekeepers.

"That lets Animal Control or other county officials know where the bees are going to be if there's ever a problem," Harris says. "It also helps us to get the word out about what the requirements are to the beekeeping community."

She says officials received input from all parties involved.

County resident and beekeeper Greg Stewart says, the change would promote food grown locally.

"Your neighbors most likely won't even see a difference in anything," Stewart says. "Except maybe their flowers are better or if they have an organic garden they're getting more fruit and vegetables."

Despite common fears of the danger of bees, he says, beekeepers usually deal with docile bees.

"European bees and the basic species that we deal with are very gentle," he says. "We just recently had 10 kids actually working, bare handed, inspecting the colonies of bees I was testing them on."

Chicken rules vary widely across the state, with Macon having the most restrictive and some Metro Atlanta areas the least restrictive ordinances.

The Chatham proposal would allow one chicken for every 1,000 square feet of a resident's high ground property.

Michael Wall, spokesman for Georgia Organics, says that for some folks with smaller backyards, the size requirement could be a problem since most chicken keepers want multiple birds.

"They're very social and one chicken alone would not be quite as cooperative as having two chickens," he says.

Wall says, food safety is a big motivator for backyard chicken keeping because people want to know the food they're eating is safe and healthy.

Chatham and Savannah leaders could approve the rules in the next few months.