Roadside Habitat: The state’s largest landowner and manager of “grasslands” in Kansas is the Department of Transportation (KDOT). With most of our state’s residents and virtually all visitors exposed to the 10,000-mile network of state highways, where better to promote appreciation for prairie plant communities than on the approximate 150,000 acres of vegetated roadsides. KTA has nearly as much acreage as the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and it is viewed by tens of thousands every day. Managing habitat for its potential, wherever it exists, is vital if we are to retain biodiversity and wildlife resources – from Bobwhite Quail to Fritillary Butterflies.
The Problem: KDOT spends around $6 million on mowing every year. Unnecessary /non-essential mowing happens throughout the year destroying potential habitat for grassland birds, pollinators, and other Great Plains wildlife. Mowing often times happens before annual native plants and wildflowers are able to re-seed and propagate. U.S. Country roadsides are needlessly broadcast and spot sprayed with herbicides causing major threats to flora and fauna–especially vulnerable are the important and diminishing numbers of pollinators such as the Monarch Butterfly.
Our Role: Audubon advocacy led to the establishment of the Aesthetics Task Force by KDOT Secretary Deb Miller. AOK and representatives of other entities participated in a series of meetings devoted to improvement of this resource. Now, we are asking the Kansas Turnpike Authority to implement similar roadside management protocols to showplace our prairie heritage along that roadway. Future management includes a shift to all-native grasses and wildflowers in new rural plantings, reduced mowing to within 15 feet of the road shoulder except for “mow out” to the boundary fences only once every three or four years. Delayed mowing to late fall will allow prairie wildflowers and grasses to flower and produce seed, further enhancing diversity and abundance. Broad rights-of-way areas provide habitat for butterflies, beneficial pollinating insects, and numerous birds at various times of the year. Standing vegetation holds snow and reduces drifting on roadways, serves as filter strips that help purify water runoff and prevents litter from washing into streams.