DitchesDo you think counties should be spending money on mowing ditches?

I found the following detail of the Minnesota statute pertaining to mowing ditches at the Minnesota State Legislature website, or more specifically at the Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes website:

2007 Minnesota Statutes

    (a) To provide enhanced roadside habitat for nesting birds and other small wildlife, road
    authorities may not mow or till the right-of-way of a highway located outside of a home rule
    charter or statutory city except as allowed in this section and section 160.23.
    (b) On any highway, the first eight feet away from the road surface, or shoulder if one
    exists, may be mowed at any time.
    (c) An entire right-of-way may be mowed after July 31. From August 31 to the following
    July 31, the entire right-of-way may only be mowed if necessary for safety reasons, but may not
    be mowed to a height of less than 12 inches.
    (d) A right-of-way may be mowed as necessary to maintain sight distance for safety and
    may be mowed at other times under rules of the commissioner, or by ordinance of a local road
    authority not conflicting with the rules of the commissioner.
    (e) A right-of-way may be mowed, burned, or tilled to prepare the right-of-way for the
    establishment of permanent vegetative cover or for prairie vegetation management.
    (f) When feasible, road authorities are encouraged to utilize low maintenance, native
    vegetation that reduces the need to mow, provides wildlife habitat, and maintains public safety.
    (g) The commissioner of natural resources shall cooperate with the commissioner of
    transportation to provide enhanced roadside habitat for nesting birds and other small wildlife.

I agreed with most of this Minnesota statute, then I found the information at the Office of Environmental Services website for the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) process

IRVM is a decision-making and quality management process for maintaining roadside vegetation that integrated the following:

  • the needs of local communities and highway users
  • the knowledge of plant ecology and natural processes
  • design, construction, and maintenance considerations
  • monitoring and evaluation procedures
  • government statutes and regulations
  • technology

…with cultural, biological, mechanical, and chemical pest control methods to economically manage roadsides for safety plus environmental and visual quality (NVRMA, 1997).

First of all, you can be sure that county ditch mowers run wild during the month of August if not before that every year in this state.  It happens nearly every year across the front of my property; every once in a while my ditch, the one you see pictured above, eludes the razor’s edge.  If a ditch being mowed would resolve a safety issue I could understand that, but I believe in most cases it falls on those last two words in the IRVM statement…

“visual quality.”

Mother Culture has beaten into our minds that a freshly mowed expanse of grass is the only acceptable form of appearance for that piece of real estate, which in fact, by the statutes own words is habitat for wildlife and native vegetation.  What’s wrong with the wildflowers that bloom in my ditch each summer and the beauty of the grasses waving in the wind?  Isn’t that “visual quality?”

Then there is the mention of “chemical pest control methods.”  Are these really necessary?  Where do those chemicals end up?  In the water supply?  In the lakes I fish?  Not to mention the fuel consumption and emissions produced just to maintain this unjustified taxpayer expense of visual quality.

Wouldn’t the first eight feet mentioned in the statute, if that is even necessary, be enough to solve the safety issue at all times?  Don’t come around here mowing my ditch.  We don’t need your habitat destruction in the guise of management.  There’s already plenty of it going on in this world.

Campus Environmental Tour

Talloires DeclarationOn Tuesday we took a little stroll around campus discussing some of the ways Bemidji State University demonstrates its responsibility as an institution for higher education by creating an educational environment that pledges to work towards sustainability.  As a public educational institution producing tomorrow’s leaders, the university needs to set an example for the generations of the current and future environmental stewards it prepares for graduation into society.  If our society is to change its practice of mismanagement of our natural capital, we have to learn how to change.  By establishing educational resources for the study of how we can successfully become a sustainable society, Bemidji State University joins a commitment to environmentalism with other leading institutions and organizations working to provide a healthier future for our local and global ecosystem.  The president of the university, Dr. Jon Quistgaard, promises this obligation by uniting with over 350 university presidents and chancellors in over 40 countries around the world in the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future through the Talloires Declaration, and the university community expects a proposal to further this promise with a future signing of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Other examples of Bemidji State University’s commitment to an ecocentric environmental worldview are detailed in these press releases from the university on November 29, 2007:

Other campus projects I find to be equally important, if not on the same scale as the above mentioned movements of environmentalism, then on the measure of what can be done by the individual or small group to renew and improve our campus and community are:BSU Campus Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project on Lake Bemidji

  • The Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project performs the following benefits for our local ecosystem and our downstream neighbors:
    • Restores a buffer zone using native plants
    • Provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife
    • Filter out pollutants and runoff that degrade water quality
    • Prevent shoreline erosion by absorbing wave action
  • The implementation of a Rain Garden to reduce runoff and naturally filter storm water.

What is a Rain GardenA BSU Rain Garden

  • Landscaping with Native Plants such as a Butterfly Garden provide multiple benefits:
    • Native plants have evolved and adapted to local conditions over thousands of years.  Once established, they require no irrigation or fertilization.  They are resistant to most pests and diseases, and require no mowing.  Thus, native plants, conserving water and fossil fuels, and requiring less work to maintain, are less costly in the long term.
    • Native plants have longer root systems than non-native species which helps rainfall percolate into the soil, reducing erosion and runoff, and recharging ground water and improving water quality.
    • Native plants provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other desirable wildlife.

BSU Butterfly GardenThis little tour around campus inspired me to begin planning some improvements to my own property’s landscape.  I have always favored native plants for their simplistic beauty and minimal maintenance.  I especially have affinity for trees.  After discussing the question of why we mow and manicure our lawn with Professor Bailey-Johnson when a thoughtfully landscaped native plant ecosystem provides habitat for beneficial species, such as dragonflies – which prefer longer grasses while mosquitoes do not and dragonflies eat mosquitoes, I would rather have more habitat and wildlife on my property than an aesthetically pleasing keeping-up-with-the-Jones’-look.  Also, there is the consideration of time spent mowing – three hours per tour for me, but I have plans to cut that in half – and the incredible fact that 5% of all emissions in this country come from lawnmowers.  I mean really – why?