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Roadside Use of Native Plants

Using Native Plants On Roadsides — Preface

There has always been a need to use and preserve native plants on roadsides. The reasons are many. In the early days of roadside development (landscaping or erosion control in your state), you will find that the notion of planting, preserving, or encouraging native plants was often written as policy. Policy has changed with prevailing objectives of the times. During the 1930s we believed that our roadsides should be maintained as if they were our nation's front yards. And for years we laboriously sought that objective. We did so with the best information and tools of the time. The labor- intensive mowing and planting we did during that era was made easier by the 1950s development of agricultural herbicides that had application to our maintenance needs. In the 1960s we were encouraged to include the needs of the highway users by adding beautification as a major objective of state highway agencies, especially after the interstate highway building years. When the energy crunch of the 1970s diminished the use of equipment on roadside work, we learned that an ecological approach might be the answer. The idea of working with nature and allowing nature to exist, if not encroach into the right- of- way, was contrary to the front yard and beautification objectives. By the 1990s we had learned that these ideas were not mutually exclusive and could coexist on our roadsides. Our nation's "front yards" could reflect the natural beauty and biodiversity of a region. That natural beauty could actually be considered beautification, in terms of a new aesthetic! The new aesthetic was built on an understanding of our natural heritage and good planning.

That new aesthetic, working with nature, amounted to an ecological approach that was affordable. All we had to do was sell the idea to the highway users, by informing them of all the benefits: environmentally sensitive, local character, ecologically diverse, erosion control, wildlife habitat, with reduced use of water, chemicals, mowing, and fertilizer. And if the new approach allowed a natural beauty to be the highway user's view, so much the better. And so the new aesthetic is actually an old aesthetic, reflecting the beauty that attracted our ancestors to different regions of the country. The need for roads followed. And with that need came our responsibility to take care of the roads and roadsides. I suggest that we have found a way, by working with nature, that suits our needs as well of those of future generations. May we drive into the 21st century knowing that we are not only taking care of roadsides but their future as well. The common sense of the roadside ecological approach has led to the writing of this handbook. Because this old idea is new to many roadside decision- makers, including maintenance, erosion control, landscape, and environmental units, the Federal Highway Administration researched some of the basics needed for this approach, including: what are native, endangered, or noxious plants in each state, where the native plants fit into natural regions, what references and resources are available with an appendix that provides terms, guidelines, and relative Federal policy, even a sample specification outlining the use of native species in contracts. The book begins with a primer, a collection of insights from a cross section of experts from academia, other agencies, and state departments of transportation themselves. The primer answers basic questions about the use and preservation of native plants. It ends with a roadside land ethic, or explanation of roadside decision- makers' important interaction with the environment. We are proud to be able to share the authors' views of the roadside and the opportunities they see in the use and protection of the natural heritage found there.

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Questions and feedback should be directed to Deirdre Remley (deirdre.remley@dot.gov, 202-366-0524).

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