When the Walk and the Talk Doesn't Match

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So, I keep hearing about the new ODOT (Ohio Dept. of Transportation), the new and improved, pollinator/monarch/milkweed friendly ODOT. I have recently seen many posts about how ODOT is going to reduce mowing, saving millions of dollars and protecting valuable pollinator habitat simultaneously.

Well, I call bullshit.

The photo above was taken on August 12, 2019 and is from the northeast corner of US33 and OH180 in southeast Ohio. On August 12 of most years, monarchs are laying eggs on milkweed in southeast Ohio (and throughout Ohio). And, those eggs will grow up to become the migratory generation of the monarch butterfly. This generation will eat milkweed until roughly the end of August and in early to mid-September take wing to fly to Mexico.

On the morning of August 12, this field was a massive patch of Common Milkweed, large enough to support several dozen developing monarchs. Obviously, that is not going to happen now.

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I believe I have spoken before about the mowing obsession in the Midwest. This example from today would most certainly have to be considered the poster child of that obsession. What could possibly be the justification of the wanton destruction of such valuable habitat? This is not an isolated instance either. Within a few minutes of posting this picture to Facebook, others reported similar occurrences from Fairfield, Perry, and Delaware Counties (the site pictured is Hocking County) in Ohio.

Talk is cheap. You cannot put yourself out there as the defender of pollinators, monarchs, and milkweed and then go out of your way to destroy it. Please hold ODOT accountable. Force them to have to justify this destruction . . . time and time and time again.

UPDATE: Find below the email I received from ODOT regarding this issue.

“Chris,

Thanks for reaching out and for your help in protecting our vital pollinators. Your email was passed to me for a response.

 The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is well-aware of the declining populations of pollinators – including honeybees, the Rusty Patched bumblebee, and the Monarch butterfly – and has been hard at work creating both high-value roadside pollinator habitats and suitable habitat through reduced mowing to aid in their survival. Since 2017, ODOT has constructed 120 high-value pollinator habitats comprising 1,200 acres in 47 of Ohio’s 88 counties with plans to add 150 new acres per year with at least one pollinator habitat project in all 88 Ohio counties by 2022.

 In May 2018, ODOT implemented new mowing guidelines which reduced the number of full mow backs from four times per year to once per year. In doing so, ODOT created 80,000 acres of suitable habitat for pollinators. ODOT has established allowable mowing windows which center around the growth of Milkweed and the migration of the Monarch butterfly; however, there are exceptions:

  • ODOT will always mow medians and clear zones (30 feet from the edge of pavement) as often as necessary to maintain line-of-sight and a safe recovery zone

  • Urban areas will continue to be mowed regularly to maintain a clear viewshed for communities and businesses

  • ODOT is required by Ohio Revised Code to control noxious weeds. The Department will always mow stands of noxious weeds to control their propagation

  • ODOT will mow pollinator habitats during establishment to control annual weeds

 ODOT maintains 19,000 miles of roadsides, the equivalent of six one-way trips from New York to Los Angeles, comprising 260,000 acres of land. Millions of motorists use Ohio’s roads every day and it is helpful when they make us aware of opportunities for improvement. Unfortunately, we’ve received a lot of negative feedback on a very positive program due to the post on social media. Hopefully, you’ll be able to help explain the situation further as a result of this email.

 If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. We’re always happy to address questions and concerns.

 Thanks!”

I appreciate ODOT for responding to my concerns (and I politely emailed them such) but I am still left feeling empty. This is not rocket science. I know that some people think I am being mean and unfair to ODOT. I think my concerns are very relevant and reasonable. At no point have I advocated for not mowing roadsides. I am simply asking for this mowing to be sensitive to the timing of the life cycle of the migratory generation of the monarch butterfly. This is NOT an unreasonable request and could be relatively easily accomplished.

Also, contrary to the insinuation in the ODOT response, I am NOT opposed to ODOT’s high-value pollinator habitat program. I think the intentions are good. I can also do basic math, and these pollinator habitat areas comprise less than one-half of one percent of the roadsides ODOT manages. I guess it is unfortunate for the caterpillar whose mother laid its egg on the other 99.5% percent of roadside. In my mind, your organization’s reputation should be based on the majority of what you do, not on a minutely small fraction of what you do. ODOT’s public relations campaign declaring itself to be pollinator friendly lacks teeth while being flush with good intentions; sort of like the participation trophy for the Little Leaguer who successfully walks onto the field without tripping over the foul line.

I will continue to fight for the migratory generation of the monarch by advocating for adjusted mowing schedules. I will also enter into roadside areas rich in milkweed in early August to gather monarch caterpillars and eggs before they are destroyed by roadside mowing.