Kansas Department of Transportation
Kansas' Prairie Restoration, Conservation, and Education Initiative
Roadside Prairie (Kansas DOT)
Deep-rooted tallgrass prairie thrives on fire. Modern-day wildfire suppression has allowed woody growth to invade this valuable natural resource, and agriculture, development, and over-grazing have contributed to its demise. Less than one percent of North America's original prairie ecosystems remain, and every year, more of these endangered ecosystems are disturbed.
The State of Kansas has some of the few remaining, intact prairie areas in the Nation. It's home to three endangered prairie ecosystems—tallgrass prairie in eastern Kansas, shortgrass prairie in western Kansas, and a mixture of tall- and short-grass prairie in central Kansas.
To help restore and preserve portions of these ecosystems along Kansas' roadways, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) launched an initiative last year in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), the Kansas Department Agriculture, and Audubon of Kansas. Instead of one "multi-purpose" seed mix for all KDOT roadsides, Kansas now has two seed mixes—one for road shoulders and another for natural areas beyond the shoulder. Seed mixes in the second group include native species like buffalo grass which reduce the need for mowing. Seed mixes used outside the mowed shoulder area also include such native grasses as big bluestem, little bluestem, and Canada wildrye and such native wildflowers as blackeyed susans, Illinois bundleflowers, maximillian sunflowers, and purple prairie clover. These natives add color and aesthetic character to roadside landscapes, and many of the wildflower species provide food for insects and wildlife. In addition, native, nitrogen-fixing legumes in the seed mixes reduce the need for long-term fertilization.
The KDOT also developed improved erosion control practices—for example, using reinforced native sod matting for highly erodible areas, and spraying straw mulch with a natural mulch slurry tack coat to "tack down" the mulch so the ground will hold moisture and the grass seed will be sheltered from wind and water and held in place until it germinates.
That's not all. The KDOT has set up a new mowing policy as part of its roadway maintenance program. This policy uses best management practices guidelines promoted by the KDWP and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The policy designates mowing heights and times. Since native plants do best with minimal disturbance, KDOT now mows these areas only once every 2-3 years. Using an improved mowing policy and specialized seed mixes have helped enhance vegetation growth and protect wildlife habitat. And yes, they've saved time and fuel, reducing KDOT's maintenance costs.
The KDOT is doing more...It's getting the word out to thousands of Kansas drivers and taxpayers about the importance of native prairie grasses and the difference between native and non-native species. In partnership with the Kansas Biological Survey, Audubon of Kansas, the Kansas Turnpike Authority, and the Kansas Wildflower Society, KDOT designed a wildflower handout—a brochure with images of 27 wildflower species, five grasses, and five shrubs that are seen most commonly along Kansas roadways.
The KDOT has also produced a video on its roadside vegetation management process to use at public meetings and distribute to civic organizations. A segment of this video has aired on Kansas Public Television's widely viewed "Sunflower Journeys." And KDOT has partnered with the Kansas Department of Commerce to erect radio towers along the Flint Hills Scenic Byway route which will distribute historical and ecological information to the traveling public on an AM radio station.
For more information contact Scott Shields at email@example.com.