On May 30, the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment Act (Highways BEE, H.R. 4790) was re-introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). Co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus, Reps. Denham and Hastings aim to protect the birds, bats, bees and butterflies that are essential to food production, without allocating additional funding. The Highways BEE Act proposes that existing funds, authorities and programs be re-directed to provide much-needed aid for pollinators.
In addition to being an indispensible part of a healthy ecosystem, pollinators are responsible for $20-billion worth of food in the United States. Seventy-five percent of the world's flowering plant species depend on pollinators for fertilization. Native pollinators like the honeybee and monarch butterfly have experienced dramatic decreases in population, partly due to loss of habitat. The Highways BEE Act seeks to restore some of the pollinators’ natural habitat and cut costs for Federal and State highway departments. The act proposes that integrated vegetation management practices, such as reduced mowing and replacing invasive plants with native species, be used on highway rights-of-way. Native grasses and foliage are already adapted to local weather conditions, so they need less weeding, replanting and other maintenance that requires government funding. Using the rights-of-way would create 17 million acres of natural pollinator habitat across the United States. Integrated vegetation management practices are already being used in a number of states, which are reporting savings of 20 to 25 percent through reduced mowing alone.
The revenue-neutral changes proposed by Reps. Hastings and Denham are one example of the steps needed to maintain the diversity of the nation's plant life and food supply. Hastings remarked that if the continuing decline of the pollinator population is left unchecked, it will only result in increased global food prices, commenting, "If we don't solve these problems soon, we won't have any bees. … Without bees, we won't have any food. The benefit to cost balance in the case of this bill is an easy choice."