Nation’s highways could be a pollinator-friendly habitat

A bipartisan bill introduced to establish pollinator habitats on nation’s highways

Habitat for pollinators such as monarch butterflies and bees continue to decline, but a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate could help to reverse the decline. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) along with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Mike Rounds (R-SD) submitted the Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act of 2019 would establish a federal grant program available to state departments of transportation and Indian tribes to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights-of-way.

According to a press release by Merkley, the bill would establish grants that could be used for:
• The planting and seeding of native, locally-appropriate grasses, wildflowers, and milkweed;
• Mowing strategies that promote early successional vegetation and limit disturbance during periods of highest use by target pollinator species;
• Implementation of an integrated vegetation management approach to address weed and pest issues;
• Removing nonnative grasses from planting and seeding mixes except for use as a nurse or cover crops; or
• Any other pollinator-friendly practices the Secretary of Transportation determines will be eligible.

“With so much of our natural landscape lost, the millions of acres of roadsides across the US have become increasingly important as pollinator habitat,” said Scott Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “The Xerces Society is excited to support the Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act of 2019, which will provide much-needed funding for states to maximize habitat management and restoration for these vital animals.”

The Xerces Society conducted its annual survey from 97 sites, mostly along the California coast, where 77% of the monarch population overwintered and found that the population in 2018 reached “historic lows” over the previous year’s population. The Center for Biological Diversity showed in their 2018 survey for overwintering grounds in Mexico to be down as well from 2.91 hectares to 2.48. It stated that the population has been in decline from an estimated one billion in the mid-1990s to roughly 93 million. Milkweed is the primary plant that monarchs require for breeding and food, and acreage of the plant has decreased.

When we think of bees, we generally picture the European honeybee or Apis mellifera, which is responsible for the pollination of over $170 billion in crops. However, there are over 4,500 native bee species that are also responsible for the pollination of these crops, including 1,600 of them in California. In an article written for Medium entomologists stress that saving all species of bees versus the just the honeybee is equivalent to “conserving chickens because you’ve heard that North American birds are vanishing.” That is not to say there has been a decline in the numbers of European honeybees, they have also seen a dramatic decrease of 40% between 2018-2019 with one expert calling it “unsustainably high.

The bill does not specify how these grants will be funded, but anything we can do to help these populations is critical. I can distinctly remember as a child oleander and bottlebrush plants were growing in the median of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley of California and throughout the area. Sadly, they were taken out because of the drought and also the fear of them harboring invasive insects. Although oleander is considered a deceit pollinator and insect cheater by looking attractive, offering no nectar, and yet still accomplishing pollination.
Besides, wouldn’t you like something interesting and aesthetically pleasing to look at while you spend time in the driving or sitting in the passenger seat?

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