Good news for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators: In December 2015, when The President signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) [H.R. 22] into law, it included—for the first time ever– a provision encouraging pollinator habitats along the nation’s 17 million acres of highway right-of-ways.
Section 1415 of the FAST Act directs the Secretary of Transportation to encourage state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to use integrated vegetation management (IVM) practices on roadsides and other transportation rights-of-way. These practices increase native plantings, reduce pesticide use, provide an oasis for a wide variety of pollinators—and cut way down on mowing and other maintenance, a plus for cash-strapped states. (In a pilot project, Washington State—a trailblazer in IVF–is using goats to control weeds along roadsides, and has instituted a “reduced mowing policy” that results in more natural grasses and forbs and increased forage for pollinators.)
Roadsides with a rich diversity of native plants encourage pollinators. So Section 1415 also encourages state DOTs to plant native flowering plants and grasses, including noninvasive native milkweed species that serve as migratory way stations for butterflies and facilitate migrations of other pollinators. States that do both are eligible for funding assistance, as are roadsides managed by counties and municipalities.
“This is not only a practical approach to better roadside management, it has multiple benefits–saving money on mowing, reducing the carbon footprint, and increasing the drought tolerant-plants that hold roadsides in place,” says Laurie Davies Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit organization that promotes the health of pollinators through conservation, education, and research. “It also creates more ‘place-based’ plantings, building in native beauty and giving food and shelter to the mini-fauna that support our ecosystems and agriculture. Everybody wins.” Pollinator Partnership worked for over 5 years to bring the legislation to flower.
Section 1415 is based on H.R. 2738–the Highways BEE Act–introduced in June 2015 by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), co-chairs of the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus (CP2C). Over 250 organizations and 3,000 scientists and citizens signed a petition in support of the BEE Act. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) secured a pollinator roadsides provision based on the Bee Act in the Senate-passed bill, while Rep. Denham got the same language in the House-passed bill.
In celebration of Section 1415, here’s a vision of what every highway in America could look like. Everybody wins–nectar for pollinators; pollinators for farmers; natural beauty for every frazzled commuter and long-haul trucker on the road; and goats, sweet goats. Thanks, pollinator-friendly state DOTs.