Delaware's drivers may notice more flowers sprouting up on the state's nearly 14,000 lane miles of roadside this year.
DelDOT implemented changes to its management practices to benefit pollinators over the past several years. In the past, the agency promoted well-manicured turf grass along the state's roads. These management practices effectively create food deserts for pollinators who depend on blooming plants. DelDOT started incorporating more native species and clover into its seed mixes and has transitioned to a reduced mowing regime.
The decline of monarch butterflies and other pollinator species is believed to be due in part to loss of suitable habitat. Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by moving pollen from one part of the plant to another. Because many crops depend on pollination, pollinators contribute billions of dollars' worth of value to the economy each year.
DelDOT is also partnering with other organizations to create more pollinator habitats. DelDOT's Roadside Environmental Supervisor Darin Callaway created experimental pollinator plots through a partnership with Susan Barton from the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Program. The results of the experimental plots will inform Delaware's future pollinator plantings. The agency is also set to break ground on a 43-acre pollinator meadow mitigation site outside of Middletown. DelDOT's Environmental Planner Erika Furlong partnered with DNREC's Eric Ludwig to design and install the site, and the Delaware Forest Service's Todd Gsell will help maintain it.
DelDOT joined 24 energy and transportation organizations to develop a conservation agreement for the monarch butterfly. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether or not to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act in 2019. The conservation agreement's purpose is to facilitate voluntary conservation measures to benefit the monarch butterfly — and other pollinators — by energy and transportation organizations that manage large tracts of land. In exchange, USFWS would provide greater regulatory certainty and help streamline requirements under the Endangered Species Act if the monarch is listed. The efforts are led by the University of Illinois at Chicago and are an outgrowth of the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group.
DelDOT's pollinator efforts reflect the agency's commitment to environmental stewardship and to staying in line with industry practices, which increasingly recognize the ecological value of roadsides. At the start of National Pollinator Week, DelDOT hopes residents will help spread the “buzz” about pollinators and the important role that they play.