In terms of public land space, there are no more visible areas than public rights of way. Ever since the federal interstate system was developed, the highway rights of way have been subject to intense public scrutiny. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 is just one example of the intense effort to determine who the rights of way should serve and how. Utility rights of way are included in this conversation, too.
Most recently, the plight of pollinators has called into question federal and state land management in a way that we have not seen since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The loss of pollinators has been well-documented. In a nation that once had over 5 million managed honey bee hives, there are now 2.6 million hives to provide the invaluable pollinator services to 87 of the U.S.'s top 115 crops. The estimated value of honey bee pollination to agriculture is at least $19 billion. Researchers estimate that native bees (of which the U.S. has more than 4,000 species) contribute approximately $6 billion in seed-set.
Since the "White House Strategies to Protect Pollinators" was finalized in 2016, state transportation agencies and utility companies have been under scrutiny in terms of how they manage rights of way. Kentucky is no exception. Increasingly, the public has become better educated about insect control programs. Furthermore, converting grassland to diverse floral areas can reduce costs of mowing while helping to address the pollinator crisis by allowing flowers to provide nectar and pollen for a longer amount of time. A honey bee hive consumes approximately 34-75 pounds of pollen a year. In addition, a hive needs at least 120 pounds of honey to survive a calendar year. That equates to approximately 252 million flowers for each colony.
Since 2016, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has engaged in creating Pollinator Habitat Zones, in which floral seed mixes are planted and signage installed to designate these areas. Consider the following:
• The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has approximately 200,000 acres of right of way. Of that, it maintains about 100,000 acres with mowing, spraying, re-seeding, etc.
• Overall, for its Pollinator Protection Zones, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has seeded 60 sites in 10 of 12 districts across the state for a total of 85 acres.
• The Transportation Cabinet has installed 14 monarch butterfly way stations at welcome centers, rest areas, and other cabinet facilities sites and created habitat on several former rest area sites.
• Kentucky passed a Highway Rights of Way law in 2010, allowing local transportation officials to consider using pollinator habitat at interstate interchanges.
Since 2018, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Columbia Natural Gas, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Roundstone Seed have collaborated to convert highway rights of way and utility rights of way to pollinator habitat. Columbia Natural Gas maintains more than 40,000 miles of rights of way in six states. Thus far, in Kentucky, three sites have been selected for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Columbia Natural Gas to convert to pollinator habitat in 2019.
This partnership is one of many best management strategies identified in the Kentucky Pollinator Protection Plan and the Kentucky Monarch Protection Plan, both plans resulting from collaborative efforts of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, universities, agricultural groups, and nonprofits trying to create a better environment for pollinators. In the meantime, the efforts of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Columbia Natural Gas should be commended as Kentucky joins North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and surrounding states in providing habitat for a variety of sensitive species while at the same time reducing costs of maintenance.