Connecticut could soon join the ranks of states seeking to boost the health of bees and butterflies.
The effort comes as federal officials work on a national strategy to restore honeybee colony health to sustainable levels by 2025, increase Eastern monarch butterfly populations by 2020 and eventually restore millions of acres of land for pollinators.
State Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late U.S. senator from Massachusetts and co-chairman of the General Assembly's Environment Committee, sees the issue as an economic one in Connecticut, where several bumblebee species have declined.
"There are so many different crops that we grow in Connecticut, including fruits and vegetables, which depend on bees. And so they're really pivotal to maintaining our agricultural sector in our state," said Kennedy, who is in the early stages of coming up with possible legislation for the new session, which begins Feb. 3.
At least 14 states have passed legislation in recent years to boost pollinator populations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Laws have focused on expanded research, beekeeper assistance, limitations on certain pesticides, protecting habitats and greater awareness.
Oregon in 2014 created a task force to study pesticide regulations and evaluate the best management practices for applying widely used neonicotinoid pesticides. In 2010, Kentucky encouraged coal companies to locate and protect pollinator habitats on reclamation sites. While Pennsylvania declared a pollinator awareness week in 2014, Hawaii passed legislation in 2013 encouraging small bee-keeping operations.
Jonathan Bishop, co-owner of Bishop's Orchards in Guilford, said he worries state lawmakers might ban or further regulate certain pesticides without understanding the precautions farmers are already taking to protect pollinators. While saying he and growers in Connecticut haven't been hurt by the decline in bee populations, he suggested more needs to be done to inspire plantings.
"Something they could do is to encourage people to plant habitat, fields of wildflowers or crops that don't get sprayed but are a source of food for pollinators," he said.
John Campanelli, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, is working such a concept. Using funds from transportation departments in all six New England states, Campanelli is creating a manual to help the agencies grow native grasses and plants along highway medians, roadsides that don't have to be mowed as often.
In addition to saving money, these native meadows would become habitats for pollinators, who need places to feed and nest.
Planting milkweed, for example, would help protect monarch butterflies that lay eggs in the plant and feed on the leaves. Midwestern states have been creating such meadows for years, he said.
"We have to figure out a way to do it here in New England," said Campanelli, who hopes to encourage state DOTs to take advantage of new federal money to help states manage vegetation around highways to help pollinators.
Kimberly Stoner, an associate scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station who researches bees, said there is interest in growing pollinator plantings on the old Hartford landfill.
Meanwhile, she said, other states have taken other less expensive steps, such as developing pollinator protection plans to notify bee keepers when pesticides are being sprayed.
"I think there are things that we can work out that will benefit pollinators that will not be a major cost," Stoner said. "And why wouldn't you do that?"