MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced County detectives are investigating the theft of dozens of bee boxes worth thousands of dollars.
Local farmers are now stepping up to lend a helping hand.
Deputies say they take reports of stolen bee boxes nearly every year, but usually, it happens in the spring when the bees are already out pollinating trees. This time, the thieves targeted a property where the boxes were being stored for the winter.
Bees play a crucial part in helping Valley crops grow, but they've also become a hot commodity for thieves in recent years.
The boxes can cost about $200 - $300 to rent and are worth much more than that to the beekeepers who own them.
Steve Belo is one of the coordinators of the Hilmar Farm Watch Facebook page, which aims to keep the community informed about ag-related thefts and other issues. He posted a request for residents to be on the lookout after 32 bee boxes were stolen from the Stevinson area on Wednesday.
"It's a big issue right now. They're starting pretty early. Usually in February is when they start stealing them, but they're already stealing them," he says.
The Merced County Sheriff's Office is now investigating the theft.
Deputy Daryl Allen says the bees belong to a company from Idaho but were being stored on the property for the winter. He adds that it's common for crooks to paint over the name on the boxes and try to re-sell them so buyers should beware.
"Make sure you know who you're buying your bee boxes from. Don't just go on Craigslist and start looking for bee boxes because that's where thieves are trying to sell this stuff from."
Beekeepers can add serial numbers to the inside of their boxes in case they're stolen and then recovered and some have even put GPS tracking devices on their hives.
Authorities say it also helps to have groups like the Hilmar Farm Watch reporting suspicious activity right away.
"Having these farmers come forward with information and tell us this is what's going on is very helpful to us, they work very well with us, and we've caught a lot of thieves that way," says Allen.
Authorities say it usually takes someone with experience around bees to steal these boxes.
In the past, they have caught people pulling up in trucks in the middle of the night to take the bees when they're back in their hives. And sometimes they're even re-sold in different states.
Thieves steal 32 bee boxes worth thousands of dollars from Merced County
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