Pollinators such as monarch butterflies, bumble bees, and honey bees are an important part of healthy ecosystems. Unfortunately, wild pollinators are experiencing declines due to loss of habitat, disease, pesticides, and other factors. Roadside vegetation plays an important role in providing food, shelter, and a habitat to benefit pollinators. In 2015, The U.S. White House released the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which includes a specific directive to improve habitat on roadside rights-of-way.
State Departments of Transportation in the U.S., manage an estimated 17 million acres of roadsides. Since these roadsides form an extensive network of linear habitat across all types of land, there is a significant opportunity for conservation. With the right conditions, roadsides can support pollinators that are greatly in need of quality habitat in order to survive.
In order to improve the quality of roadside habitat for pollinators, vegetation management strategies need to be adjusted to accommodate pollinator resource needs, and native vegetation needs to be enhanced and restored. Roadsides with abundant wildflowers and native plants provide the best pollinator habitat. Bees rely on wildflowers as sources of pollen and nectar, and are the caterpillar host plants that butterflies and moths need to complete their life cycle. Milkweeds are specifically important because they are host plants for the monarch butterfly and a source of abundant nectar for many species.
Roadside managers, landscape architects, engineers, and others that design and implement roadside plantings, can contribute to conservation efforts. The focus needs to be on protecting native vegetation, adjusting mowing practices, reducing the impacts of herbicides, and employing multiple vegetation management strategies such as prescribed burns and brush removal. Landscape design should take into account elements that benefit pollinators and maintain highway safety.