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7 reasons why the IRVM program is important to Dickinson County

Iowa was one of the first states to establish an Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management program. Since its inception in the 1970s, more than 50,000 acres of federal, state, county and city roadsides have been planted to native grasses and wildflowers.

(Read about the state program here.)

Dickinson County began its IRVM program in 2015, and additional staff have been hired in 2019 to expand the program.

But why?

Your taxpayers dollars support this program, and Dickinson County Conservation thinks it’s important that you know why we’re making the changes that we’re making.

1. Native plants help the Iowa Great Lakes.

The Iowa Great Lakes are the lifeblood of Dickinson County, and it’s important that we all work hard to preserve them. By planting native species in the county rights-of-way, we’re creating natural landscape sponges. Prairie plant roots grow anywhere from 6-9 feet below the surface — compare that to the 4-inch root system of Kentucky bluegrass — and those roots can absorb 9 inches of rainfall per hour before any kind of runoff occurs.

That means that instead of runoff going into the storm sewer and directly into our lakes, taking with it pesticides, fertilizer and sediment, the water then moves through the natural watershed. As it does, the water is decontaminated and cleaner, making the water that ends up in our lakes pure and of high quality.

2. Roadside plantings are a long-term plan for cost savings.

Although the first few years of implementing native plantings can be time-consuming as the areas are prepared and reseeded, then need to be mowed and cared for in order for the native species to take root, after that, native roadsides provide low maintenance weed and erosion control. The amount of time needed to care for these areas, once established, will decrease through the years, saving the taxpayers money in the long-term.

3. Native plants help drivers in the winter.

Native vegetation acts as a snowbreak in the winter, the longer grasses and wildflowers stopping the snow from constantly blowing over roadways and providing better visibility to drivers. In Iowa’s wide-open spaces, this is incredibly important and also helps landowners by reducing the need for natural or plastic snow fences.

4. Native plants are important to pollinators and other wildlife.

Monarch butterfly populations have decreased by more than 90 percent in the last three decades, and native bees populations are also struggling due to many factors, including a lack of native habitat and food sources. Monarch butterflies need milkweed, their host plant, in order to survive, and all native pollinators need a variety of nectar sources. Native roadways offer habitat and food sources for pollinators and are important way that we can help bring pollinator populations back. Roadways are so important that an initiative has been created to support pollinator plantings along the I-35 “Monarch Highway” corridor that runs through Iowa.

In addition to pollinators, native plantings are important habitat for voles, turkeys, rabbits, ground squirrels, hawks, foxes and other Iowa wildlife.

5. Roadside plantings beautify the landscape.

Tallgrass prairie is a beautiful landscape that blooms in different colors throughout the season. You will see the purple of spiderwort and pink of wild roses in June, the vibrant orange of butterfly milkweed in July and August, the cheery yellow of goldenrod and the blue-violet of big bluestem in the fall. Roadside plantings offer a beautiful view along your commute in different seasons.

6. Native plants resist the spread of invasive species.

The highly-diverse ecosystem provided by IRVM programs are more resistant to invasive species, because it is hard for invasive species to take root in an area that is full of healthy, diverse natives. Controlling invasive species is always a positive for the environment.

7. Native plantings preserve our natural heritage.

Less than one-tenth of one percent of Iowa’s tallgrass prairies remain today, and Iowa is the most developed state in the entire country. By planting sections of native tallgrass prairie in Iowa’s roadsides, we help to preserve some of the natural heritage of our beautiful state for future generations.

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