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FHWA Encourages States to Take Action in Achieving Pollinator Health
Pollinator species such as bees, birds, bats, and butterflies assist the reproduction of over 80 percent of the world's flowering plants. Honey bee pollination, in particular, adds more than $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural crops each year. In recent years, the recorded populations of these species have reached historic lows, posing threats to the Nation's environmental and economic health.
In response to the rapid decline of pollinator species, President Obama released Presidential Memorandum—Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators on June 20, 2014. The memorandum discusses the importance of pollinators and establishes the Pollinator Health Task Force (Task Force), which comprises representatives from executive departments and agencies including the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). The Task Force is responsible for increasing and improving pollinator habitat. The U.S. DOT will work with State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to promote pollinator-friendly practices and corridors.
State DOTs Share New and Existing Best Practices for Pollinator Habitat Management
Following guidance from the Task Force, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) produced a case study series that highlights how several State DOTs are encouraging pollinator health using various vegetation management practices such as reducing herbicide use and decreasing mowing frequency. The purpose of the series is to provide agencies with tools that can help roadside managers encourage native vegetation—all plant species that occur naturally in a particular habitat—that benefits pollinators. The case studies describe practices in Indiana, Texas, and Washington.
Indiana Expands Vegetation Management Practices
Control of invasive species is an important component in encouraging native plant growth. To detect and manage new and existing invasive species, the Indiana State legislature established the Indiana Invasive Species Council (IISC), which includes INDOT. The IISC used the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS), a web-based mapping system for documenting invasive species distribution in order to control and reduce their impact on native ecosystems, to create Report IN. Report IN allows State agencies such as INDOT and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to better manage invasive species using information entered into an online database, in many cases from a smartphone application. Anyone interested in reporting invasive species can log into the Report IN website and enter the details of their observations (i.e., location information and plant descriptions) into a standardized online data form. The data are immediately loaded to the website, so INDOT land managers can facilitate early detection and rapid response programs, if necessary.
INDOT has also collaborated with Purdue University on alternative vegetation management practices. After testing various management strategies and equipment on different roadway types, Purdue researchers found that converting anti-icing trucks to spray herbicides was much more efficient than using mowers—one truck was capable of covering 10 times the area of a mower. INDOT has since reduced mowing and saved $1 million since the study was completed in July 2014. The agency has also reduced the amount of herbicides it sprays along INDOT-managed roadways. INDOT carefully times these herbicide applications and uses spot-treatment of invasive and noxious weeds in order to avoid harming or eliminating pollinator habitat, such as roadside wildflowers.
Texas Builds on Long-Standing Tradition of Wildflower Preservation
The TxDOT Maintenance Field Support Section oversees integrated vegetation management to ensure the prevalence of wildflowers. This includes spot treatments of non-native species, carefully timed mowing, soil erosion control with native plantings, pruning, and noxious weed control. Mowing occurs twice a year at specifically chosen times to align with the wildflower life cycle: post-spring-bloom season and post-fall-bloom season. Additionally, each of the TxDOT's 25 districts has a vegetation manager to oversee the application of these techniques.
Washington Uses Integrated Vegetation Management to Protect Pollinators and Native Plants
WSDOT approaches IVM on a site-specific basis and gives added attention to special status species, those listed as rare, threatened, or endangered by Federal and/or State governments, and require special protection. For instance, a proposed roadway realignment of U.S. Route 12 near Walla Walla, Washington will impact ground-nesting alkali bees. These bees are important to the agricultural community since they pollinate nearby alfalfa fields. To mitigate impacts to the bees, WSDOT is providing funding to farmers to move the bees to new locations.
Additionally, WSDOT is collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service on pollinator issues and is creating a website to share information with the public and other interested agencies. WSDOT is also working with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to create a webinar on pollinator issues.
Different State DOT Practices Yield New Innovations and Positive Results
FHWA Plans Future Pollinator Health Resources for State DOTs
In addition to developing the State DOT case study series on pollinator health, FHWA is working on a number of other pollinator health projects either as a lead agency or a collaborator. In addition, the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center hosts a number of beehives on campus in McLean, Virginia. The U.S. DOT recently partnered with the General Services Administration and their building contractor at the U.S. DOT headquarters offices in Washington, D.C. to open a pollinator garden. These projects are demonstrations of how small changes can eventually lead to large impacts for pollinator health.
FHWA Released Vegetation Management Assistance in E-Book Format
Xerces Society and FHWA Partner to Develop Pollinator Best Practices Literature Review
FHWA Joins Efforts to Increase Native Seed Availability
FHWA Launches New Pollinators Web Page
Look What's New!
Successes in Stewardship is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining and stewardship practices from around the country. Click here to subscribe, or call (617) 494-3719 for more information.