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Posted at 9 a.m. on June 13, 2014
What does highway funding have to do with your blueberry smoothie?
Simple: More roadside habitat for honeybees could mean better pollination for berries, melons, and other crops. In a Dear Colleague letter last week Rep. Alcee Hastings, D- Fla., and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., urged colleagues to “BEE a Part of the Solution!” — by co-sponsoring their bill — the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment (BEE) Act — that would allow states to use federal highway maintenance funds to create highway habitats for honeybees.
The two men, co-chairmen of the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus, said the bill would help states “incorporate integrated vegetation management (IVM) practices on 17 million acres of right-of-ways along America’s highways.”
IVM includes “reduced mowing and replacing invasive plant species with native forbs and grasses” that would attract bees.
Honeybee pollination is estimated to be worth $12 billion a year to U.S. agricultural production, according to a Cornell University study cited by an April report by the Congressional Research Service. But declines in honeybee colonies – due in part to colony collapse disorder, the rapid disappearance of most of the adult bees in a colony — have caused alarm in the beekeeping and agriculture industries.
Hastings spokesman Evan Polisar said states already receive federal funding for mowing the grassy areas along the highway rights of way. The Hastings-Denham legislation would allow state transportation departments to use some of that money for honeybee habitats.
“Instead of mowing all the time, states can mow less or plant native plants that require less maintenance. Because of this, we actually expect the bill to save money, not cost money,” he said.
A group called The Pollinator Partnership, which is backing the legislation, said on its website that it is “important to act quickly, as transportation reauthorization legislation appears to be on a fast track in Congress. The goal is to get an amendment based on the Highways BEE Act in that important legislation.”