Malia's op-ed was originally published by The Revelator and ran on Wednesday, September 29, prior to the House's passage of the bill.
The insect world’s version of the ultramarathon is now taking place across the United States. Monarch butterflies have started their journey to the groves where they’ll spend the winter. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains have a long trip to the California coast before them, while eastern monarchs have a hefty 3,000-mile trek to the forests of Mexico.
Despite their hardy nature, monarchs have suffered severe population losses. In the past several decades the eastern population has declined 80%, while its western counterpart has fared even more poorly. In the West, monarchs are at less than 0.1% of the population they had in the 1980s. Last year’s winter count fell short of just 2,000 butterflies. These numbers reflect a very real threat of extinction for this iconic species.
But there’s hope, and it comes from an unexpected place: the Biden administration’s infrastructure agenda.
In addition to supporting traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, the current version of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act in Congress contains funding for pollinator-friendly roadsides, as well as provisions to revegetate areas devastated by invasive species.
Throughout the United States, there are 10 million acres of prime space for habitat along roadsides. Why not use it to rebuild populations for butterflies and bees? That’s the opportunity before us, and the infrastructure bill would provide $2 million annually to relevant agencies for pollinator-friendly plantings. Grants of up to $150,000 would go toward much-needed projects for “planting and seeding of native, locally appropriate grasses and wildflowers, including milkweed.” Other techniques to protect pollinators detailed in the bill — yes, it’s that thorough — are as simple as reducing mowing frequency, timing mowing to avoid disturbing pollinators, and using pesticides more judiciously.