ALVIN, Texas (KTRK) -- An estimated half million bees burned or drowned late Friday on April 26. Someone intentionally destroyed more than a dozen hives, setting them ablaze or dumping them into a retention pond, a crime that left those in the local beekeeping community stunned.
"Every colony that we lose is a major catastrophe to the environment," said Steven Brackmann, the president of the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association.
The destroyed hives belonged to several of its members, and it's come at the worst possible time, right when bees are beginning their most active season.
The bees and honey lost could take a year to replace, maybe longer, and this part of the country is popular with beekeepers from all over the country because of the Chinese tallow tree.
"When all the pollen starts coming in on the trees, that provides what the colonies need to build," said Brackmann. "That's protein and the colony needs protein to make more babies."
Dane Beito farms bees. He sells candles, lotion, and of course, honey. He showed ABC13 Eyewitness News the damage, and says even the surviving hives might be a total loss too. He thinks whoever did it knew something about bees.
"It really is unbelievable what took place," said Beito. "Hopefully somebody shows up somewhere that's pretty stung up, but at nighttime, bees don't fly like they do during the day, they stay pretty close."
It was actually a Brazoria County deputy who first spotted the crime. He was on patrol when he saw the flames and smoke. He put them out with a fire extinguisher, but not before a lot of damage was done. Now there's a criminal investigation.
The crime is serious. There are two in fact: arson, which is a state jail felony and felony criminal mischief. Both carry up to $10,000 fines and between six months and two years behind bars.
"It's not an easy case, any case of this nature. There are no witnesses, it's a relatively rural area. It's a matter of getting out and beating bushes," said Lt. Varon Snelgrove with the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office. "It is unusual. Like I said, it's a senseless case."
"When they go and they set them on fire, then they've destroyed everything," Brackmann said. "That goes past vandalism, that is just basically criminal."
The club, with more than 300 members, was offering a $1,000 reward to find whoever did this. The reward has since increased to $7,000, and the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association said nearly $20,000 has been raised since ABC13's first report on April 27.
The $20,000 is enough money to replace the items damaged in the fire. The association also plans to use some of the money toward its school program.
A number of tips have poured into the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office, but no arrests have been made.