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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: Interstate 35 to become Monarch Highway

By Karen Graham     May 26, 2016 in Environment
Travelers along Interstate 35, stretching from northern Minnesota to southern Texas, will soon be seeing a lusher more natural scene as they drive along the highway, all because the road is being turned into a pollinators corridor.
North America's beautiful monarch butterfly is well known for its trademark bright orange and black stripes, as well as it's extraordinary annual migration from Canada to Mexico.
But after suffering a 90 percent decline over the past 30 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the possibility of listing the monarch as an endangered species. One of the principal reasons for the decline in populations, according to researchers, has been the shrinking stands of milkweed, a plant monarchs feed on and lay their eggs.
Stems of Common Milkweed.
Stems of Common Milkweed.
UMass, Amherst
We must not forget the honey bee, whose populations have also faced declines due to the use of pesticides, habitat loss, and parasites. Both the monarch and honey bee are pollinators, and necessary in the production of much of the country's fruits and vegetables.
The agreement to transform Interstate 35 into a pollinator's corridor owes its conception to an executive memo signed by President Barack Obama in June 2014. He directed that agencies draw up a federal strategy to promote pollinator health. Last year the Pollinator Health Task Force set a goal of restoring or enhancing seven million acres of land over the next five years through federal initiatives and public/private partnerships.
Interstate 35 - The Monarch Highway
The I-35 corridor between Minnesota and Texas follows along the Eastern monarch's migration flyway. The highway is surrounded by public lands that will be used as "safe havens" for the butterflies and bees that are so important to us as pollinators, reports the Washington Post.
Interstate 35 will be unofficially called the Monarch Highway.
Interstate 35 will be unofficially called the Monarch Highway.
I-35 Highway
The agreement that was signed on Thursday by transportation officials from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas and the federal government, is meant to improve the monarch's habitat as well as develop a branding campaign to unofficially name the interstate the "Monarch Highway," reports the Associated Press.
The agreement forms what it calls "a cooperative and coordinated effort to establish best practices and promote public awareness of the monarch butterfly and other pollinator conservation."
"We've actually found in Minnesota that restoring prairie along the interstate is not only good for the environment but it helps reduce our maintenance costs," said Charles Zelle, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Zelle also mentioned that prairie grasses and wildflowers also provide nesting, foraging, breeding and over-wintering sites, as well as helping to prevent erosion.
The plan calls for transportation agencies to share seed mixes and roadside maintenance practices that promote the best habitats for pollinating insects. This can be done while still seeing that roads are safe for drivers. Conservationists are still lobbying for transportation departments to reduce their use of herbicides and specifically encourage milkweed to grow along roadways and power lines.
The agreement was signed in Des Moines at a meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a nonprofit, nonpartisan trade group.
Green Thumbs Up is a recurring feature that focuses on the environment and how we can lead more sustainable and eco-friendly lives. In a previous Green Thumbs Up, we featured Portugal, a country that set a remarkable record, running the entire nation for four days straight using only renewable energy sources.
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