A recent front page story in Memphis’ The Commercial Appeal, “To save a buck, state lets grass grow along I-40 in West Tennessee,” described the overgrown interstate highway roadsides resulting from reduced mowing. The following is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote the editor in response:
“While that is quite understandable in tough budget times, perhaps it is time to explore an alternative highway right-of-way management strategy. The interstate highway right-of-way is currently managed as a grassland of perennial grasses. Roadsides and medians are basically lawns of tall fescue with spring-blooming crimson and white clover. Some designated areas are left un-mowed as wildflower plots or pollinator pastures. An alternative strategy could involve expanding the wildflower plots into pollinator corridors along highway rights-of-way.”
“Some electrical power and petroleum pipeline rights-of-way are being maintained according to designed integrated plant management plans. Here, appropriate native grasses and wildflowers are allowed to grow in unmowed prairie habitats. Native wildflower species are chosen to provide continuous blooming throughout the growing seasons, and native shrubs are allowed to line the margins of rights-of-way.
“The resulting prairie affords vehicle entry into the rights-of-way while providing important habitat and forage for honey bees and native pollinators, songbirds, and small mammals. The honey bees and native pollinators, important for the production of one-third of our human diet, are declining in numbers across North America.
“These prairie corridors along highway rights-of-way may provide a lower-maintenance alternative to mowing, provide important habitat and forage for pollinators, and present colorful, attractive foliage along our highways.”
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has prepared an overview of the conservation potential of roadside habitat. It may be viewed at http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation-roadsides/. Just at bison and large mammals benefit from established wildlife corridors in the American West, honey bees and butterflies can benefit from pollinator corridors along our interstate highways. Today’s photo shows a honey bee foraging vetch among asters and buttercups.--Richard