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Iowa mowing laws designed to protect roadside habitats

July 12, 2013

Rebecca Kauten, program manager, Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management, 319-273-3856,

Lindsay Cunningham, Office of University Relations, 319-273-6728,

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The University of Northern Iowa's Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management program (IRVM) reminds Iowans of mowing restrictions prohibiting mowing of state-maintained highway right-of-way and roadside ditches prior to July 15.

Iowa Code 314.17, which includes county secondary roads as well as state primary and interstate highways, extends the existing no-mow period, now from July 1 through July 15 to provide an additional two weeks for hatching and development of young ground-nesting birds and pollinators.

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has established two periods for harvesting grass within the state-maintained highway right-of-way: July 15 through Sept. 1, for cool-season grasses and forage legumes and July 15 through Aug. 15, for warm-season native grasses. A permit must be issued by the DOT before harvesting.

Exceptions to the law are as follows:

- Within 200 yards of an inhabited dwelling

- On right-of-way within one mile of the corporate limits of a city

- To promote native species of vegetation or other long-lived and adaptable vegetation

- To establish control of damaging insect populations, noxious weeds and invasive plant species

- For visibility and safety reasons

- Within rest areas, weigh stations and wayside parks

- Within 50 feet of a drainage tile or tile intake

- For access to mailbox or for other accessibility purposes

- On right-of-way adjacent agricultural demonstration or research plots

"Intensive roadside mowing during this critical time for wildlife may weaken soil and root structure and may compromise habitat established across Iowa's roadsides along secondary roads," said Rebecca Kauten, IRVM program manager. "Prairies once dominated the Iowa landscape, covering approximately 85 percent of the state. Today, less than one-tenth of one percent of this original landscape remains. The amendment to the mowing law adds an additional 500,000 acres of vegetated right-of-way for habitat and allows a portion of this disappearing ecosystem to exist for birds, insects and other wildlife."

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