July Mowing Practices: the DOT and DNR Have to Work Together!

Lately, mowing has been the subject of many conversations in which I have taken part. This summer, for the first time in many years, I hopped on our tractor (60 inch deck, Blue New Holland) to help my husband mow our lawn. He is siding our house, so I decided to help with the grass. We do have some large perennial beds and a home fruit orchard that take up space, but still have at least a couple of acres of turf to control.

Over the weekend, while speaking at a local wildlife refuge about monarch butterflies and the need to conserve and restore habitat, the rangers, audience, and I also had more than a passing conversation about roadside mowing. The Monarch Highway, or I-35, running adjacent to Wisconsin, in the state of Minnesota and then travelling southward, through Iowa, and other states further along towards the U.S.- Mexican border, has been designated an area that will provide habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

In addition, today, while travelling on our local highway, Wisconsin State Hwy. 53, I saw a large municipal tractor starting to mow the roadside vegetation. There is a fair amount of milkweed along our roads. It is July, the middle of the summer breeding season for the monarch butterfly. Any one milkweed plant could harbor monarch eggs, caterpillars, or chrysalises that could potentially further growth in the numbers of this species in which the population is currently precarious. Yet, the mowing continues.

The Department of Natural Resources must be well aware of the plight of the monarch butterfly by now. It has been publicized for at least several years by agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, locally involved conservancies, as well as neighboring state or private organizations, such as Monarch Joint Venture. Yet, the mowing continues. The destruction of monarch habitat continues.

We discussed this very problem at the wildlife session on Monarchs this past weekend. How do you get the mowing to stop? How to do convince people who are doing their job but might be unaware of what impact the job required activities might have on our environment or on a species that is in trouble, such as the monarch? This is a problem. The attendees at the session were well versed in the habitat problems the monarch faces. How do we involve those who are not knowledgable, to be knowledgable on this subject?

Several suggestions were made. Another guest presenter, armed with native plants, suggested the contacting of our legislators.  A guest suggested converting more turf grass to native prairie habitat that would include not only milkweed but nectar plants for the butterflies, as well. A third suggestion was to have the municipalities stop mowing, altogether.

I understand the mowing from a safety standpoint. The DOT wants drivers to be able to have clear vision. Plants such as grasses, milkweed, and even coneflowers, grow very high if left unchecked.  But, how about delaying the mowing until later in the season when the monarchs are migrating? Or mowing less of the meridians? My husband made this suggestion when we continued the conversation at lunch today. What if they mowed only a 3 or 5 foot section nearest the road and left the middle alone?

One thing is for certain, the mowing needs to be curbed, if you will excuse the pun. We need more milkweed to sustain the monarchs.  I think that message has gotten out. I know a number of people who now are letting milkweed grow in their yards, garden beds, and even some that have purposely planted it.  This definitely helps and I thank you!  But, if the milkweed is being cut down at the height of the northern breeding season, we are still negating potential population growth for this species. The Department of Natural Resources must communicate with the Department of Transportation to revise mowing practices along roads to consider not only the Monarch but other pollinators, as well.

This week I plan to write to our local transportation departments and voice my concerns.  My husband and I are also revisiting the idea of converting part of our yard to native wildflowers or at least adding two areas naturalized with prairie plants to help sustain the iconic monarch butterfly.  I ask you to consider taking some kind of similar action. Thank you!

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