Pollinator Highways

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Butterfly on purple flower

Learn how vegetation managers can help create and maintain pollinator habitat along U.S. roadsides. 

Hardly a week goes by without a new headline warning of the dangers facing pollinators such as the honeybee or monarch butterfly. With migratory and overwintering habitat under threat, populations are declining at a frightening rate, jeopardizing the viability of crops and ecosystems that depend on a healthy pollinator population.

And while restoring pollinator habitat can’t be the responsibility of just one sector, roadside vegetation management zones provide a unique opportunity to establish habitat critical to pollinators’ survival.

But doing so requires more than just broadcasting a generic “pollinator mix” along a few hundred yards of roadside. Vegetation managers keen to establish and maintain pollinator habitat on the lands they steward will need the right plan, the right tools and the right partner.

The Right Plan

Any research on pollinators will turn up a key phrase: early successional habitat. Stated simply, early successional plants are those that pop up immediately following a disturbance like disking. On a given acre of land, those plants may include invasive or non-native weeds and other plants. But the term early successional habitat implies a specific mix of grasses, forbs and groundcovers that are native to the region and that serve as habitat for native or migratory pollinator species.

To manage for the development of early successional habitat, therefore, takes a good understanding of the vegetation currently growing along maintained roadsides, along with clear goals for the mix of plant species you’d like to see and familiarity with the methods that can help you get there. Questions to ask yourself include:

What are we managing for? In theory, any given roadside acre can be managed for virtually any species the regional climate will support. But managing for a diversity of native successional vegetation provides critical pollinator habitat, offers aesthetic appeal and is a foundational tactic for preventing herbicide resistance.

Where are we now? Before you can get to where you’re going, you need to know where you are. Having a solid idea of the current mix of plant species growing across the various management zones will help you better identify the tools and tactics you need to help develop early successional habitat and will make virtually every vegetation management decision easier.

The Right Tools

Mowers and other mechanical or non-selective tools offer quick, complete control of roadside vegetation and may be necessary in certain circumstances. On the other hand, incorporating selective herbicides and application methods as part of an integrated vegetation management (IVM) approach can allow native grasses and other successional plants to grow into vibrant, diverse habitat.

But there’s another tool that just as critical: patience. Habitat creation is a long game, one that required the right tools and methods – and the patience to allow those inputs time to do their jobs.

The Right Partner

Managing roadsides or rights-of-way for pollinator habitat can be complicated. That’s why you need a partner who not only can provide selective herbicides that will allow native vegetation to flourish but also has the expertise to help guide you along the way.

As a decades-long supporter of projects like State Game Lands 33, Corteva Agriscience is committed to helping roadside, pipeline, utility, rail and other vegetation managers better understand and more effectively implement IVM practices on the lands they steward. To learn more about how an IVM program can help you control roadside vegetation and enhance critical native habitat, connect with your local Corteva Agriscience vegetation management specialist.

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