Land managers and natural resource groups invest heavily in invasive species control efforts to protect and maintain healthy biodiversity of native flora and fauna. However, obtaining that same level of commitment from right-of-way managers can be a different story. The highway department’s plan is simple - mow before plant material becomes a hazard!
For me, that was the beginning of my struggle! We don’t have the same goal for the resource, let alone speak the same management language. Have you had this same struggle; trying to figure out how you can get commitment from the highway departments to help mitigate such a complicated and cumbersome issue?
Well, here I am to walk you down the road less traveled, sharing techniques that worked for us!
To give you some history, Door County, Wisconsin, resides within the Lake Michigan basin and has multiple unique ecosystems. Over the years, the Soil & Water Conservation Department (SWCD) through a number of awarded government grants had established the Door County Invasive Species Team (DCIST), an educational arm of our program, and a successful Phragmites treatment program that worked well on both shorelines and right-of-ways. With plenty of communication with our local municipal leaders and resource partners, everything was ‘coming up natives’ for our programs, until 2017.
In 2017, our grant proposals weren’t initially selected, donation dollars were trickling out, and our funding was becoming less predictable. No funding to maintain our years of efforts was concerning; we had to come up with a plan.
Ultimately, we decided to recommend our municipal partners adopt and implement a noxious weed ordinance for Phragmites. If this grass took over, it would spell disaster for the county’s sensitive ecosystems and who wants to visit a peninsula where you can’t get to the water?
Framing the conversation about this plan was fairly simple. With nearly eight years of treatments, the county saw a huge reduction in Phragmites population size. This meant that treatments would function more like a maintenance program and in turn would have a lower cost. We also reassured our municipal partners that we would continue to provide guidance and assistance if they decided to implement a treatment program. For example, DCIST offered volunteer coordination and inventory while SWCD shared boiler plate requests for proposals and contracts. As the saying goes, it takes a village. Or, in our case, a great network of resource groups and volunteers.
Now, back to those pesky roads. Early in our large-scale treatment efforts, SWCD was in constant contact with the Door County Highway Department. We shared everything from our focal species, location maps, contractor selection, and required permits and reporting forms. The Highway Department, in turn, kept us updated on their mowing timing and locations throughout the year, even going as far as avoiding treatment areas for as much as a week at a time.
In early 2018 after hearing about funding concerns, I met the highway department head, who acknowledged the impact we were having by working together! Through that conversation, the highway department now sets aside annual funds to conduct priority invasive treatments along county road right-of-ways for species including, Phragmites australis, wild parsnip, Japanese knotweed and common/cut-leaved teasel. In return, SWCD agrees to continue to administer our treatment program. In addition, we provide invasive species identification and management education as part of the highway departments hiring process.
That same year the PlayCleanGo campaign became part of our outreach efforts. The PlayCleanGo campaign gave the highway staff simple and clear guidance on reducing the spread of invasive species through equipment cleaning techniques and how to avoid infesting new areas. In 2019, all of the highway department’s mowers will have WorkCleanGo stickers with prevention methods, including brushes provided to clean in between sites.
So, there you have it! The techniques that worked for Door County on the road less traveled can work for you. Continue to focus on community commitment, constant communication, and teamwork.