Birds and other pollinators will soon have new habitat along North Carolina’s roadways, thanks to a bipartisan bill championed by State Senator Bill Rabon and supported by Audubon advocates throughout the state.
The law–Senate Bill 606–ensures the North Carolina Department of Transportation will prioritize native species of trees, grasses, and legumes when the agency plants vegetation along highways. That means instead of roadside invasive species like foxtail millet and crown vetch that spread into parks and forests, North Carolina residents will see more roundhead lespedeza, ricecut grass, and other local bird-friendly vegetation.
More native plants mean more berries to support nesting and migrating birds, more seeds to keep American Goldfinches and other favorite birds well-fed, and more leafy food for caterpillars, which in turn means more baby-bird food.
“Native plants play a crucial role in sustaining North Carolina’s birds, but non-native and often vigorously growing plants continue to put pressure on these habitats,” Audubon North Carolina Executive Director Andrew Hutson says. “This bill represents a bipartisan, common-sense, and far-reaching win that ensures the state will prioritize native plants across North Carolina.”
The state’s buying power will send an important signal to local nurseries throughout North Carolina that demand exists and is growing for native plants, further increasing the supply and availability for government, businesses, and homeowners.
Senator Rabon, a Republican from Southport, introduced the bill and shepherded it through the legislature, where it passed both houses unanimously. More than 2,500 Audubon members and other wildlife and native plants advocates–led by local Audubon chapters and the North Carolina Native Plant Society–sent messages of support to lawmakers.
Support in the legislature is further evidence of growing momentum for bird-friendly native plants across North Carolina, driven by Audubon’s advocacy. In Matthews, Audubon members organized earlier this year to help pass an ordinance that added native plants and removed invasive species from the town’s list of acceptable plants for developers.
Other communities, such as Winston-Salem, Durham, and Asheville, have done the same or are planning revisions to their plant lists, with the help of Audubon Ambassadors. Wake County similarly passed an ordinance last year in support of more native plants. In Raleigh, even First Lady Kristin Cooper has gotten involved, partnering with Audubon to plant a bird- and pollinator-friendly garden at the Executive Mansion.
North Carolina’s native plants advocates are far from alone. The new state-wide law builds on legislation passed in other states aimed at greening roadsides to benefit birds. In New Jersey, lawmakers passed a bill two years ago requiring transportation agencies in the Garden State to only use native plants to landscape roadways. As in North Carolina, the law received bipartisan support.
The appeal for lawmakers, outside of the obvious benefits to wildlife, lies in the potential cost savings for the state. A budget analysis conducted in New Jersey found that planting and maintaining local vegetation requires less fertilizer, pesticides, and watering.
That’s good news for taxpayers and state coffers, but also leads to more environmental benefits. Reducing the use of fertilizer along roads helps cut down on runoff that causes toxic algae blooms, which sap up oxygen in waterways and kill marine life. Native plants also help absorb extra nitrogen from the environment and solidify soils to guard against erosion.
North Carolina’s new law represents a win for birds and for all residents who value wildlife and a cleaner environment.