How do you manage invasive species on roadways? Start with Right-of-Way Managers.

When it comes to invasive species control efforts, land managers and natural resource groups invest heavily in maintaining healthy biodiversity of native flora and fauna. However, right-of-way managers and highway departments have a simpler plan: mow before plant material becomes a hazard.


For me, that was the beginning of my struggle! Working as a conservationist with Door County’s Soil and Water Conservation Department, I found working with right-of-way managers challenging. We don’t have the same goal for the resource, let alone speak the same management language.

Have you had this same struggle; trying to figure out how you can convince highway departments to help mitigate such a complicated and cumbersome issue?

This blog post walks you down the road less traveled, sharing techniques that worked for me in Door County, Wisconsin.

I get knocked down . . .

Door County, Wisconsin, resides within the Lake Michigan basin and has multiple unique ecosystems. Over the years, the Soil & Water Conservation Department (SWCD), through a number of awarded government grants, had established the Door County Invasive Species Team (DCIST), an educational arm of our program. A successful Phragmites treatment program worked well on both shorelines and right-of-ways. Every piece of our 300 miles of shoreline received two consecutive treatments of Imazipyr over a period of three years.

With plenty of communication with our local municipal leaders and resource partners, everything was ‘coming up natives’ for our programs.

Until 2017.

That year, our grant proposals weren’t initially selected, donation dollars were trickling out, and our funding was becoming less predictable. No funding to maintain our years of effort was concerning. We had to come up with a plan.

. . . but I get up again. Starting a new conversation among partners in the highway department

We decided to recommend our municipal partners adopt and implement a noxious weed ordinance for Phragmites. Fortunately, we found a common purpose in the county’s attractive natural resources. If this grass took over, it would spell disaster for the county’s sensitive ecosystems—and who wants to visit a peninsula where you can’t get to the water?

The Road Less Traveled DCIST

Framing the conversation about this plan was fairly simple:

  • With nearly eight years of treatments, the county saw a huge reduction in Phragmites population size.
  • This meant that treatments would function more like a maintenance program and in turn would have a lower cost.
  • We also reassured our municipal partners that we would continue to provide guidance and assistance if they decided to implement a treatment program. For example, DCIST offered volunteer coordination and inventory while SWCD shared boiler plate requests for proposals and contracts with each municipal board.

As the saying goes, it takes a village. Or, in our case, a great network of resource groups and volunteers.

Now, back to those pesky roads.

Early in our large-scale treatment efforts, SWCD was in constant contact with the Door County Highway Department. We shared everything from our focal species, location maps, contractor selection, and required permits and reporting forms. DCHD, in turn, updated us on their mowing timing and locations throughout the year. Their right-of-way managers even agreed to avoid treatment areas for as much as a week at a time.

After hearing about our program’s funding concerns, I met with the head of the highway department, who acknowledged the impact we were having by working together. Through that conversation, the highway department now sets aside annual funds to conduct priority invasive treatments along county road right-of-ways for species including:

  • Phragmites australis
  • wild parsnip
  • Japanese knotweed
  • common/cut-leaved teasel

In return, SWCD agrees to continue to administer our treatment program. In addition, we provide invasive species identification and management education as part of the highway department’s hiring process.

Using PlayCleanGo to leverage invasive species outreach across different departments

That same year the PlayCleanGo campaign became part of our outreach efforts. The PlayCleanGo campaign gave the highway staff simple and clear guidance on reducing the spread of invasive species through equipment cleaning techniques and how to avoid infesting new areas. In 2019, all of the highway department’s mowers will have WorkCleanGo stickers with prevention methods, including brushes provided to clean work equipment in between sites.

So, there you have it! The techniques that worked for Door County on the road less traveled can work for you.

Continue to focus on community commitment, constant communication, and teamwork.

Do you have advice for working with right-of-way managers? Become a NAISMA member and discuss invasive species outreach techniques at our conference or members-only forum.

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