MDOT's Bay Region Continuing to Expand Support for Pollinators

Contact: Jocelyn Hall, MDOT Office of Communications, 989-245-7117
Agency: Transportation

Fast facts:

  • MDOT's Bay Region has expanded support for pollinators with right-of-way sunflower plantings and Monarch Waystation certifications at most rest areas and Welcome Centers.

  • MDOT's master gardeners have worked to establish Monarch Waystation certification at nearly all rest areas and Welcome Centers across the Bay Region.

  • MSU Extension is now offering a free online course for individuals interested in learning more to boost pollinator support.

September 11, 2018 -- As the global pollinator crisis continues to rage, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has increased efforts to support endangered pollinators by expanding food sources for honeybees and now monarch butterflies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) attributes the pollination of more than 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed by humans to the efforts of bees and other pollinating insects. To support their effort to support us, creating reliable food sources for bees and butterflies is an important component.

In 2016, MDOT's Bay Region piloted its first right-of-way sunflower planting, hoping to identify a hearty plant that could thrive in the challenging soil and air conditions adjacent to a freeway. The planting was deemed a success, as the flowers bloomed as intended, but the location was also found to be very popular among a number of bee species. The pop of color didn't hurt either and was well received by many motorists. Additionally, the timing of the planting resulted in a late bloom, with most of the plants flowering in late August, which extended the timing of the food source later into the season, when many bees might struggle to find food.

Following a successful pilot season, MDOT staff approached the second year with plans to expand the sunflowers, identifying locations in both Bay and Isabella counties. With three successful sites for sunflowers now established, MDOT Resource Analyst Amanda Novak is researching different perennial seed mixes that may become an addition, or eventual replacement, to the annual sunflowers.

"Perennial plantings may be initially more expensive but over time they become self-sustaining," said Novak. "If we do this right, we find the correct mix, and we put in the initial work required with these plantings, they will eventually become a consistent food source for pollinators with very minimal maintenance on our part."

Bees are not the only pollinator in need of a reliable food source. Monarch butterflies are known to be essential to pollination and boast an impressive migration pattern, traveling as far south as Mexico during the winter. This is where MDOT's master gardeners (MG) come into play.

MDOT is fortunate to partner with the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension MG program, which has two primary goals: provide education and research-based horticulture science to motivated and active gardeners, and turn those trained gardeners into volunteers who will work to share their knowledge with the public. The program requires extensive education completed in a classroom setting, followed by 40 hours of volunteer work before participants are granted their MG certification. Maintaining the certification status requires continued education and volunteer hours throughout the year, which are no trouble for MDOT's MGs overseeing rest areas.

Rest areas with MG oversight are privileged to have some of the most outstanding flower beds. They're carefully designed around their adaptability to the surrounding conditions and their blooming patterns. Most importantly, the flower beds are maintained through the season by MDOT MG volunteers.

Over the past two years, MDOT's dedicated MGs have worked to establish Monarch Waystation certification at the rest areas they oversee. The purpose of the waystation is to provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successful generations and sustain their migration. A certified Monarch Waystation contains milkweed and other plants attractive to monarchs, and not only provides food but also a place for the butterflies to continue producing successful generations. 

"Providing these waystations was a very important goal for our MGs," says master gardener and former lead for the Swartz Creek Rest Area, Brenda Monty. "This is something that anyone can do - schools, private homeowners, business owners - they can all make a commitment to establish a dedicated area with milkweed and other nectar plants for our monarchs. This is something we are committed to doing for our butterfly population, and it's worth every bit of effort our team has put in."

MSU Extension has recently introduced a Pollinator Champion program ideal for anyone interested in learning more about the pollination process in its entirety and what every individual can do to encourage healthy pollination. The course is conveniently offered online at a self-driven pace and is available to anyone interested in learning more, including current MGs who will also earn education credits upon completion.

For more information about the Pollinator Champion program and the Monarch Waystation certification, go to:

Bryan Gillett