Twenty-five years ago when I was studying horticulture in the Netherlands I took a class in roadside maintenance. I thought it was going to be duller than watching paint dry. But, I was very much mistaken. I remember reading the book Linten in het landschap (Ribbons in the Landscape) and my thought pattern was transformed. I had no idea that by adjusting mowing cycles and maintenance routines, you could encourage both native flora and fauna. How had I missed it? With a bicycle as my sole means of transportation I had been riding through these ribbons every single day
Fast forward to today. I just read an article called Green Highways: New Strategies To Manage Roadsides as Habitat by Richard Conniff. “From northern Europe to Florida, highway planners are rethinking roadsides as potential habitat for native plants and wildlife. Scientists say this new approach could provide a useful tool in fostering biodiversity.”
In Florida agriculture is second biggest revenue stream in the state and there are roughly 100 crops that rely on pollinators. The fact that feral honeybee populations have dropped more that 50% in the last half century is serious business. Florida DOT manages 186,000 acres of land that are either next door to or one lot away from almost every farm in the state. A $90,000 study to determine how changes in the DOT mowing regimen might benefit roadside pollinator populations is now underway.
In Iowa, there is little left of the original prairie habitat. Farmers who used to set land aside under the federal Conservation Reserve Program have withdrawn more than 1.5 million acres in the last 5 years to try and cash in on the market for ethanol. The tripling of herbicide use since the introduction of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans has eliminated milkweed and other native species and that’s caused monarch butterfly populations to crash, says University of Kansas ecologist Orley Taylor. We have to consider roadsides, there is no other room left!
The idea of attracting wildlife to roadsides isn’t one-dimensional of course, and safety issues need to be heard, as do pollution concerns with storm water ponds. But, at least, the discussion is beginning. When you look at the big picture like this it can feel overwhelming but it isn’t hopeless. Many of the decisions about roadways will be made at the county level so, there is chance for you to be heard. We can also begin to create way stations for plants and animals in our own backyards and create our own beautiful ribbons running through our neighborhoods.
Bringing Life to your Garden!
Have fun out there,