Roadsides can provide vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife.

State highway departments are beginning to plant native species for habitat, increasing the esthetic attractiveness in the process, thanks in large part to the Habitat Highways initiative by the World Wildlife Federation.

Excerpts below from WWF Magazine April/May 2016

An Interstate highway may seem to be an unlikely place to create a butterfly habitat, but across the country roadside rights-of-way are attracting the attention of biologists and conservationists for their potential to foster monarchs and other kinds of wildlife. Roadsides can support a surprising variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. Long-distance migratory birds such as the ruby-throated hummingbird can use roadsides as pit stops for resting and feeding. Small mammals thrive on the edges of highways.

Flowers bloom in roadside habitat. Photo: World Wildlife Federation

Starting not far from the shore of Lake Superior, Interstate 35 heads south for more than 1500 miles through fields of corn and soybeans and the remnants of midwest prairie until it reaches the Texas chaparral country along the Rio Grande river. It’s an artery of speeding motor vehicle traffic, but to biologists like Michael Gale of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this Interstate could one day become the “monarch highway”.

“It overlaps perfectly with the central flyway of migrating eastern monarch butterflies” says Gale, a participant in a multi-agency federal plan to increase the numbers of that beloved but beleaguered butterfly. During the past two decades, the population of monarchs in Mexico for the winter has plummeted 80 to 90%, primarily as a result of habitat loss in the United States.

In the past, US roadways have been anything but wildlife friendly, planted with exotic grasses like fescue, excessively mown and heavily sprayed with herbicide. In recent years, however, several state transportation departments – including those in Iowa, Indiana, Florida and Nebraska – have begun changing their right-of-way management practices. In December 2015, President Obama signed the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” which, among many measures ,encourages states to plant milkweed and other native plants along highways for pollinators to feed on. And in 2016, the Federal Highway Administration released new “best management practices” that provide guidance to transportation authorities about how to develop wildlife habitat along rights-of-way.

For more information, Habitat Highways World Wildlife Federation.
July 1 2020