Bee populations are suffering serious declines across the country, with habitat loss and widespread pesticide use among the primary culprits. Scientific studies continue to provide evidence of the decline of these vital pollinators. Sadly, more than 25% of North American bumblebee species face some extinction risk. The American bumblebee and yellow bumblebee, both of whose native range includes Kansas, are among the at-risk species that have seen sharp population declines.
There are an estimated 17 million acres of roadsides managed by state Departments of Transportation. Several DOTs — including Connecticut, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Oregon — have successfully implemented pollinator conservation programs which focus on planting native wildflowers and reduced mowing along roadsides and medians. These initiatives have both ecological and economic benefits. Ohio's Pollinator Habitat Program, for example, has saved the state's taxpayers nearly $2 million with its reduction in mowing.
In recent years KDOT has partnered with the Kansas Turnpike Authority and other state agencies to plant wildflowers and reduce mowing along certain roadsides and medians to support pollinators (including monarch butterflies whose migration route runs along the I-35 corridor). These projects have largely focused on northeast Kansas interchanges and rest areas, but we're encouraging KDOT to expand such initiatives to south central Kansas in an urban setting.
Wichita is the largest city in the state, with major interstates and highways that tens of thousands of commuters and travelers drive every day. It's an ideal urban setting to create wildflower-rich pollinator habitat and increase public awareness of pollinator conservation.
We're proposing two stretches of heavily-trafficked thoroughfares that would serve as high visibility pollinator habitat in both east and west Wichita:
• K-96 between I-135 and US-400 (approx. 10 miles)
• I-235 between K-96 and Southwest Blvd. (approx. 9 miles)
Currently the roadsides, medians and on/off ramps along these stretches provide little to no nutrition for pollinators. Planting native wildflowers and implementing a reduced mowing schedule (while still maintaining appropriate height for driver visibility) would provide valuable habitat for honeybees and the many native bees in the area. It would also serve as a refueling stop for migrating monarchs.
Bees are responsible for pollinating one in every three bites we eat, not to mention 60-70% of the world's flowering plant species upon which other wildlife and ecosystems depend. In order to keep them a thriving part of our future, we can't afford to delay taking immediate actions, both small-scale and large-scale.
Wichita is a prime urban location with underutilized roadsides that can serve as pollinator habitat. Sign our petition and tell KDOT you want to see wildflowers along Wichita's highways!