Integrating Roadside Vegetation and Erosion Control
Better Roads Staff
If roadbuilding and maintenance changes the landscape, the roadside landscape must be maintained to recognize the movement of plants and animals, Nebraska DOT says. “These corridors provide a way for plants and animals to move between habitats that have been fragmented by agriculture, expanding communities and various other activities of man and nature,” Nebraska’s plan states. “Understanding this need and using thoughtful design and appropriate long-term management of these corridors will allow for safer movement of all species whether for seasonal migration or changes over longer periods of time.”
Iowa Funds County Roadsides
The state of Iowa is actively promoting integrated roadside vegetation management via a program that was established by the state in 1988.
Iowa’s tool chest includes judicious use of herbicides, spot mowing, prescribed burning, mechanical tree and brush removal and the prevention and treatment of disturbances to existing vegetation. Like Massachusetts, the plan’s long-term objective is to reduce roadside maintenance by creating stands of durable, long-lived, native plants.
Until the mid-1980s, Iowa’s roadside weed control relied exclusively on herbicides, with most counties using blanket spraying. It was expensive and potentially harmful, and it was an ineffective means of weed control, creating openings for weeds by stressing and weakening roadside grasses, and eliminating beneficial broadleaf species.
“Iowa counties were spending a lot of money putting large amounts of herbicide into the environment, and, at the same time, making little or no headway in the control of roadside weeds,” the plan says. “Clearly, this type of roadside management proved unsustainable.”
Simultaneously, the Iowa DOT began using native prairie grasses and wildflowers for erosion control. A few county conservation boards were also experimenting with this naturally adapted, alternative vegetation for roadsides. When the Iowa legislature officially adopted its integrated roadside vegetation management plan in 1988, the cornerstone of the program became the establishment and protection of native vegetation in Iowa roadsides.
To support roadside management, Iowa’s Living Roadway Trust Fund was created the following year, supporting state, city and county roadside projects.
“Since that time over 100,000 acres of state and county road right-of-way have been planted to native vegetation,” the plan says. “Diverse stands of 15 to 45 prairie grass and wildflower species – all naturally adapted to local growing conditions – provide stable, low-maintenance roadsides for Iowa.”
Simply by adopting an IRVM plan, a county or city becomes eligible to receive grant money from the trust fund for conducting an inventory of roadside conditions within the jurisdiction, and obtaining prairie grass and wildflower seed for roadside plantings.
By hiring a roadside manager, Iowa counties become eligible to receive Living Roadway Trust Fund money for equipment such as a native grass drill, hydro mulcher, straw mulch blower, GPS and software, prescribed burns, and seed harvesting. Funds also are made available for erosion control material, a seed storage facility, education and outreach materials, and for research. At this time some 39 Iowa counties now have full-time roadside managers.
According to the 2011 IRVM Technical Manual, herbicide use in Iowa roadsides has been reduced to spot-spray application, and the Iowa DOT and half of Iowa’s counties routinely plant native vegetation.
“When considering the establishment of a new IRVM program, consider: money spent in weed control, money spent in contract seeding, money spent contracting erosion control, money spent on erosion stone vs. best management practices,” says Wes Gibbs, Jones County roadside manager. “There’s lots of money to be saved with an IRVM program. Make it about money!”
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