Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware joined Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, to introduce new legislation Nov. 20 to help states create pollinator-friendly habitats along roads and highways.

This legislation would help address the steep decline of pollinator populations, which poses a serious threat to Delaware farmers and the American food supply.

Specifically, the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act of 2019 would establish a federal grant program available to state departments of transportation and Indian tribes to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights-of-way.

“Monarch butterflies and other pollinators serve an indispensable role in our natural ecosystems, and their population decline poses a profound threat to both American food supply and to the economic success of farmers in Delaware and throughout the country,” said Carper. “Through the use of competitive grants and assistance to communities, this bipartisan bill will take meaningful, innovative steps towards building up pollinator habitats along our nation’s roads and highways — helping our natural environment and our nation’s agricultural industry at the same time. I want to thank Senators Merkley, Alexander and Rounds for their leadership on this urgent issue.”

MPH Act grants could be used for the planting and seeding of native, locally-appropriate grasses, wildflowers, and milkweed; mowing strategies that promote early successional vegetation and limit disturbance during periods of highest use by target pollinator species; implementation of an integrated vegetation management approach to address weed and pest issues; removing nonnative grasses from planting and seeding mixes except for use as nurse or cover crops; or any other pollinator-friendly practices the Secretary of Transportation determines will be eligible.

The bill also requires the Department of Transportation to help states develop best practices around pollinator-friendly roads and highways. The bill would require DOT to develop and make available to state departments of transportation a prioritization ranking of pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights-of-way, and to provide technical assistance to states that request it.

The MPH Act comes as the population of monarch butterflies, honeybees and other pollinators face dangerous declines. Western U.S. monarch populations hit a record low in 2018, with one researcher describing the drop as “potentially catastrophic.” The honeybee population has also seen dramatic declines in recent years, with a 40% year-over-year decline between 2018 and 2019, and one expert describing repeated year-over-year losses as “unsustainably high.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators for survival.