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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pollinator legislation proposed by Mt. Spokane senior buzzes through the Senate

Julia Costello, a senior at Mt. Spokane High School, sits by her family’s container garden at her home in the Mead area on Thursday. For her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Costello proposed a state law to protect insects that are important to pollination. Sen. Mike Padden has endorsed the idea.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Julia Costello will be the first member of her Girl Scout troop to receive the prestigious Gold Award, partly thanks to her collaboration with a state senator from Spokane.

Her journey started with a blue apron covered in patches, the daisy level of Girl Scouts. She worked her way up the ladder, and the Mt. Spokane High School senior is an ambassador reaching for Gold, the highest accolade a Girl Scout can earn.

Equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award in Boy Scouts, a Girl Scout must work individually on a project that works to fix a problem or make a sustainable change in their community to receive the Gold Award.

In November, she approached Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, to propose an idea for legislation in hopes of garnering his sponsorship and propelling her project forward.

Her proposal worked to encourage the integration of pollinator habitats into landscaping to address the shrinking population of bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators.

Padden called her proposal “compelling” in a news release, not only deciding to sponsor her bill but also working to push her idea forward by accumulating a co-sponsor in the legislature.

“ Sen. Padden and his (legislative) assistant, Annalise, were very nice and very accommodating the whole time,” Costello said.

“They just made the process super easy.”

With a couple of tweaks, that proposal soon became a bill and advanced through the Senate on Monday, making its way one step closer to becoming a law. The bill now flies to the House of Representatives.

Costello’s inspiration for her project stemmed from her elementary school days, as she remembered reading about how important pollinators are for coffee plant pollination.

“I’m a big coffee lover,” she said.

The Running Start student used her English class at Spokane Falls Community College to dive into background information about pollinators, putting in around 25 hours of research.

She had to complete 80 hours of work from beginning to end of the project.

“I just kept seeing how much they’re declining in their population size, and I thought, ‘Whoa, this is really becoming an issue. Let’s see how we can fix it,’ ” she said.

She initially wanted to keep her project local. She considered taking her research to Green Bluff Growers, a community of farms filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers north of Spokane, but her dad suggested she take it to the state level.

Under the bill, project or commercial building applicants are encouraged, but not required, to include in their design pollinator-friendly landscaping, such as wood’s rose, wild buckwheat, alder or dogwood bushes.

Applicants are given a list of native forage plants and the benefits of including them. They are offered quicker processing time and reduced application fees as an incentive if they include pollinator habitats in their permit application.

This legislation also works to protect bees. Cities, counties or homeowners’ associations can set restrictions related to beehives within a community, but they cannot ban them.

Spokane Conservation District Director Vicki Carter sent a letter to Padden a couple of weeks ago supporting the bill. She outlined how bees, butterflies and other insects are crucial in the production of crops including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

“Approximately 75% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators for successful reproduction,” she said in the letter.

Incorporating pollinators into urban landscapes not only reduces water consumption and the need for chemical treatments on lawns, she said, but contributes to the mental well-being of people who choose to relax nearby.

Costello was excited to travel to Olympia and testify before the Senate Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee in early January, but an Alaska Airlines incident that grounded aircraft led to the cancellation of her flight.

“I did end up having to Zoom in, which was unfortunate,” she said. “But since it has passed through the Senate side, I’m hoping to go over and testify in person for the House of Representatives.”

Even if the bill doesn’t pass through the Legislature this year, Costello will still secure the coveted Gold Award, as she’s completed the process and presented her work to the Gold Award Council. Community engagement is her next move, with a potential presentation to the Spokane City Council on the horizon.

“Ultimately, the end goal is just to see it signed by the governor and put into law,” she said.

After graduation, Costello plans to continue her family legacy at Zip’s Drive-In, hoping to become a general manager at her parents’ location. The drum major also has offers from her band director to potentially return to Mt. Spokane as a staff member.