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Roadside Use of Native Plants

Beneficial Landscaping
Questions and Answers

(As issued to the field along with final guidance on November 2, 1995 by Kevin E. Heanue)

Q.     What does this Executive Memorandum mean to our agency?
A.
    In a nutshell, the E.M. suggests principles for environmentally and economically beneficial landscape practices. The intent is for Federal Agencies, facilities, and funded projects to implement these principles. The E.M. further intends to assist in planning and policy development for landscape management practices. Since federally funded projects are included, these principles should be applied to highway construction projects. They include: I. Use regionally native plants for landscaping. 2. Design, use, or promote construction practices that minimize adverse effects on natural habitat. 3. Seek to prevent pollution. 4. Implement water and energy efficient practices. 5. Create outdoor demonstration projects implementing these principles.

Q.     A key definition established by the E.M. for Agency use is that of "native plant". What is considered a native plant species?
A.
    "A native plant species is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem and/or habitat without direct or indirect human actions." This definition is not new, but rather, borrowed from the 1994 Memorandum of Understanding that established the Federal Native Plant Conservation Committee.

(The following questions have been raised about the E.M.'s application to the FHWA and State Highway agencies, when Federal-aid funds are involved on construction projects.)

Q.     Does the E.M. apply to all Federal-aid highway projects involving landscaping?
A.
    At every opportunity where they are determined to be appropriate and cost- effective, the guiding principles of the E.M. should be considered to the maximum extent practicable.

Q.     Does the E.M. include habitat mitigation projects?
A.
    Although the guidelines do not address this question directly, the guidelines do assume that restorations (one type is mitigation) will be encouraged as large-scale demonstrations of the landscape principles. Successful mitigation projects have already used the principles of these guidelines. Successful projects take the best scientific information available and apply those solutions to mitigation problems.

Q.     Do the E.M. and the implementing guidance create an unfunded mandate?
A.
    The E.M. and the guidelines do not require new programs to be established. They only suggest that existing project funds be used thoughtfully, with environmental protection and cost savings in mind.

Q.     Does the E. M. infringe on State flexibility?
A.
    The intent of the guidelines is to give support to the many State highway agencies who have already taken this approach to landscape projects and encourage other States to duplicate their wisdom. States continue to have flexibility to chose solutions appropriate to their landscape problems.

Q.     How does the EM. relate to existing mandates?
A.
    Existing regulations, i.e., the 1965 Beautification, 1966 Historic Preservation, 1969 NEPA, 1973 Endangered Species, and the 1987 STURRA Acts are not affected by this guidance.

Q.     Are naturalized species or named varieties considered "native plants "?
A.
    The definition of a native plant in the guidance states"a native plant is one that occurs naturally in an area without direct or indirect human actions." Therefore, introduced exotic species or named varieties and hybrids should not be considered native plants. Such plants would not occur naturally in an area if it were not for human activities, such as species introduction, plant breeding, and other similar cultural activities.

Although the guidance encourages the collection and nursery propagation of native species, this does not mean such species become non-native once these human activities occur. Simple propagation does not alter a native species, as would intentional genetic selection for desired characteristics or other activities such as hybridizing. The guidance states that "plants selected for Federal landscape projects or federally-funded landscape projects shall be nursery-propagated, using plant materials from sources as close as practicable to the project area". In some cases this may require collection and propagation of regionally native plant material or seeds for a project until commercial seed/seedling sources become available.

Q.     May native species be dug from the wild to meet these recommendations?
A.
    Commercial sources should always be your first source of plant materials. Securing natives species from the wild, except in salvage, is not acceptable. However, if the opportunity to salvage naturally growing native species in the path of construction occurs, an effort should be made to incorporate them into your design and implementation. Since wild-dug plants often diminish and have no guarantee of survival, commercial sources should be sought. Seed collection from the wild could be one solution to limited seed sources.

Q.     Will the use of fertilizers and herbicides be eliminated?
A.
    Fertilizers and herbicides are important tools in landscape work, including erosion control and vegetation management. The guidelines seek to reduce the use of chemicals in the environment and increase the use of alternatives, i.e., compost, mulches, and integrated pest management. Elimination of chemical tools is not possible at this time.

Q.     Will irrigation solutions be allowed?
A.
    Although reducing the use of limited natural resources is a large part of this E.M., eliminating the use of irrigation is unlikely. However, reducing the use of irrigation and encouraging the use of alternative methods like xeriscape, drought tolerant plants, recycled water, and advanced irrigation technology will be the solutions desired.

Q.     Will new funding be available?
A.
    At this time, additional funding for demonstration projects is not budgeted. However, we encourage innovative funding to demonstrate the principles of the E.M.

For example, Caltrans is partnering with a commercial seed source to find better establishment techniques of native plants. The Florida DOT, with the help of the Florida Federated Garden Clubs, is using a research grant for a native plant interpretative garden at each of the State's Welcome Centers to increase public awareness. Further partnerships with educational institutions, arboreta, commercial nurseries, botanic gardens and garden clubs are encouraged. These partnerships themselves will improve public awareness.

Q.     Will "cultural landscapes" have to be replaced with environmentally and economically beneficial landscapes?
A.
    No. Cultural, historical, or existing landscapes are not expected to be replaced. The E.M. applies only to landscape projects implemented after the release of the Guidance on August 10, 1995, or realistically, projects funded beginning October 1, 1995.

Q.     Will FHWA assist States in implementing the E.M.?
A.
    The FHWA will facilitate the implementation in every way possible. Further guidelines for the use of native plants in wildflower and treeway programs are in progress. State-by-State lists of what plants are native are also in progress. The FHWA is developing a training course/workshop mechanism to further share information about the E.M.'s approach. The FHWA will continue to share experiences and information for all States through the quarterly Greener Roadsides.

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

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