While driving along Connecticut’s highways, you might have noticed some of the grassy areas – the medians and ramps – looking wild and overgrown. This isn’t neglect, it’s intentional, and it’s part of an effort to protect some of the smallest residents of the state.
In 2016, the state legislature passed a law requiring the Connecticut Department of Transportation to use some of its land along the state’s highways as conservation areas for pollinators. The program began officially in 2017 and six years later the DOT has established 123 distinct sites, making up more than 200 acres of land.
“We like to think of how our roads and highways connect people, that by building these pollinator corridors along our highways, we’re going to be able to connect the birds, bees, the butterflies, and our pollinator friends throughout the country,” explains CTDOT Spokesperson Josh Morgan.
These pollinator protection sites are filled with native grasses, milkweed (for the monarch butterflies), and other wildflowers. They are then just … left alone. They are not mowed by the state like you might be used to but are instead left to grow and flourish and attract pollinators throughout the summer months.
This week, June 18-24, is National Pollinator Week, and Morgan notes that it’s a little early for Connecticut. You won’t see too many blooms and their butterflies and bees just yet, but you will soon.
“There’s going to be a staggered time where things are in bloom helping different pollinators,” he says. “August and September are when you really start to see the Monarch butterfly population, the larva starting their life cycle. [It’s] really just a planned effort to have a full summer season of vegetation that’s helpful for the pollinators who are coming through the states.”
Protecting areas for pollinators is widely considered one of the most important conservation efforts we can undergo. Bees and butterflies (along with birds and bats) are crucial to our ecosystem and food production and their populations have seen significant drops over the years. Much of that decline has been attributed to a decline in food sources and habitats.
Programs like this one from the CTDOT aim to increase those habitats and food sources. And there are things average residents can do too to help the pollinator cause, especially homeowners and gardeners who have the option to plant more native plants.
“We definitely encourage the public to cut back on their mowing, plant the pollinator garden,” says Morgan. “There are things that we can all do, no matter how small, that can make a difference.”
CTDOT continues to add to its pollinator conservation areas each year. Morgan does stress that these areas are protected and asks the public not to trample through and disturb them or to stop to take photos or explore as that can be dangerous.