Fifth graders from Monte Vista Elementary recently visited the state Legislature to promote a bill they helped draft to protect pollinators like bees and butterflies.
The students are among hundreds statewide taking part in Wild Friends, a civics and wildlife education program at the University of New Mexico School of Law’s Institute of Public Law.
To learn about their visit with lawmakers in Santa Fe, Michael Hernandez spoke with Wild Friends Director Sue George and science educator Sara Van Note.
Fact sheet below courtesy of Wild Friends.
Fact Sheet for Wild Friends: 2019 Legislative Session
Pollinator-Protection License Plate Bill: SB 234 and HB 381
What are Pollinators and Why are They Important?
- Animal pollinators include bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths, and also wasps, beetles, bats, and flies.
- Animal pollinators are needed for 90% of wild flowering plants and one-third of our food crops.[i]
- New Mexico food crops that rely on pollinators include: alfalfa, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, and melons.[ii]
- Between $235 billion and $570 billion worth of yearly global food production relies on pollinators.[iii]
- New Mexico has over 1000 native bee species, more than all the states East of the Mississippi River combined. That’s also ¼ of all bee species found in the U.S.[iv]
- Pollinators are a keystone species group: many other plant and animal species depend upon them for their survival.[v]
- Many pollinators, including native bees and butterflies, are in decline because of habitat loss, climate change, diseases, pests, and other pressures.
- Studies in the US and internationally show declines of 60-80 percent in insect populations (including insect pollinators) in recent years.[vi]
What Does the Bill Do?
- It creates a pollinator-protection license plate, which will be designed by Wild Friends students. The license plate will cost $25 the first year and $15 a year after that.
- Money from the plate will go to the NM Department of Transportation to support pollinator-friendly projects on roads across New Mexico, like roadside plantings of native grasses and wildflowers, educational signage, and demonstration gardens at rest stops. These projects will increase pollinator habitat and raise awareness of the need to protect pollinators.
Why are Roadways Important?
- The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) operates and maintains 15,000 miles of roadways across the state.
- They manage over 200,000 acres of roadside land, more than the total managed by New Mexico State Parks. (200,000 acres = 200 square miles, about the size of Albuquerque)
- NMDOT maintains a strip of 50-100 feet on the side of roads, of which about 15 feet is mowed, and the rest is potential pollinator habitat.
- NMDOT is working to reduce the use of herbicides (chemicals that kill plants), to reduce mowing, and to increase animal and plant habitat.
- The money from this bill will allow NMDOT to increase habitat by re-seeding roadsides with native grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs.
- The mission of NMDOT is to “Provide a safe and efficient transportation system for the traveling public, while promoting economic development and preserving the environment of New Mexico.”
- Studies have found that roadside habitat can lead to some pollinators being killed by traffic, but the positive benefits to pollinators outweigh the small losses.[vii]
Why Do We Need Another License Plate?
- According to Jerry Valdez, Deputy Director at MVD (Motor Vehicle Division), they will begin printing license plates “on demand” (only when people order them) in about nine months, so there will no longer be waste from unsold plates.
- SB 234 and HB 381 would establish a “logo” plate, so the plate will still be easily identifiable as a New Mexico license plate.
- A Wild Friends survey of 200 adults in communities across New Mexico found that over 80% would buy a license plate to support pollinators.
- New Mexico has fewer than 50 “specialty” license plates, one of the lowest number of plates compared to other states. (For example, Montana has over 200 plates, and Maryland has over 800)[viii]
- There are at least 6 states with pollinator license plates (Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi), with other states working to create them.
- Similar license plates generate from about $8,000 (Children’s Trust Fund Plate) to about $40,000 (Share with Wildlife plates) per year.[ix]
[i] “Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Regional Guide for Farmers, Land Managers, and Gardeners in the Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province” by Pollinator Partnership, pollinator.org
[ii] “Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Regional Guide for Farmers, Land Managers, and Gardeners in the Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province” by Pollinator Partnership, pollinator.org
[iii] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Pollinators Vital to our Food Supply Under Threat.” http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/384726/icode/
[iv] “Busy as Bees Identifying Species” by Elayne Lowe, Santa Fe New Mexican, June 19, 2018
[vi] “As Insect Populations Decline, Scientists Are Trying to Understand Why,” Scientific American, November 1, 2018
[vii] “Technical Manual for Maintaining Roadsides for Pollinators Establishment, Restoration, Management and Maintenance: A Guide for State DOT Managers and Staff,” Pollinator Partnership, 2016
[viii] “Specialty License Plates: Big Revenue or Big Controversy?” National Conference of State Legislatures, Nov. 2014
[ix] Data provided by NM MVD, August 2018