Roadsides for Wildlife

Roadside Wildlife HabitatDrive along almost any highway or major roadway in the country and you’ll notice a huge missed opportunity for creating more wildlife habitat.

Roadside Lawn

No, I do NOT recommend taking photos with your phone while driving along the highway :)

Why do townships, cities, and states waste so much money keeping roadsides mowed (and spraying a horrendous amount of herbicides in the process) when these places present the perfect opportunity to provide habitat for butterflies, native bees, and birds?

Mile after mile, those wide medial strips and mowed roadside edges spread across the country.

From a financial perspective, how much money is wasted every year mowing these spots week after week? How much money is wasted to pay the chemical trucks to drive along spewing their cargo of toxic chemical herbicides to kill “weeds” like Milkweed that is so vital to a declining Monarch population?

I had the opportunity to visit some of the state parks on the Champlain Islands near Burlington, VT recently and noticed something quite different.

Goldfinch in Thistle

See the Goldfinch?

The roadsides here were buzzing with life. Many different types of butterflies, native bees, and even birds were feasting on the abundant resources provided by the flourishing native plants which lined these roadways instead of mile after mile of mowed turf grass which provides no benefits at all to wildlife, and costs so much to maintain.

Roadside Wildlife Habitat

Instead of paying the mowing company every week, these communities probably only mow their roadsides once a year (to keep succession at bay and the roadside edges free of trees). They are saving a ton of annual expenses and also providing welcoming habitat for wildlife. How smart is that?  (I’d say it is VERY smart!)

Aster and Goldenrod

Aster and Goldenrod

Even the homes took a different approach. While there was still some lawn, the edges of each property and the space along the road were allowed to grow wild. Goldenrod, thistle, milkweed, and so many more native plants filled these spaces. And so did the butterflies, bees and birds.

Roadside Milkweed

Roadside Milkweed

So let’s stop wasting so much money. Become involved in your community and encourage them to cease with the mowing and toxic chemicals and create wildlife habitat instead!

Resources for roadside wildlife gardens:

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© 2013, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. says

    Carole! This **so** very much strikes a chord with me! I hike every day on a desserted/isolated road on a mountainside. It is lovely. Until the highway dept comes along with their bushhog/mowers! They manage to schedule their trips to be just before berries are ripe and when so many wonderful native wildflowers are either blooming or forming. I’ve seen some natives just disappear. Due to complaints from land owners along the road, they have stopped spraying herbicides – thank goodness! I understand that they must keep the road accessible to we who use it, but really?? Thanks for your post and all you do for the wonderful world of nature!

  2. Patrick Kelly says

    While in theory I think Roadsides for Wildlife is a good practice, I don’t know if I can really get on board with the reality of it. The idea is that it will provide acres upon acres of once useless habitat, and in addition provide much needed travel corridors. But as a habitat restorationist what I see is travel corridors for invasive species.

    Here in Minnesota, many highways are now left to grow until after nesting season is over. What I see when I drive down them isn’t beautiful habitat, but spreading colonies of problem plants that I’ve now dedicated my career to fighting. You’d be amazed how far a car can carry a seed. The habitat that is created is fairly marginal anyways, benefiting generalist bird species like red-wing blackbirds, mallards, and pheasants (pheasants aren’t even native). Species like this are doing just fine. Also, some of the invasive plants spreading down these roadways are biennials, and simple properly timed mowing could control their spread.

    Now, one thing MnDot is doing more and more of is planting the sides of new roadways with native prairie, which I’m all in support of. I just wish there was a management plan developed for these areas, not just a plant it and leave it strategy. Because what will happen inevitably is it will look okay for a few years and then succumb to invasion and the investment is a failure. Which is unfortunate. My two cents.

    • TommyGunn says

      I think allowing the median and roadside areas to grow wild is a terrible idea. All sorts of wildlife will be attracted to the highway area. With high speed vehicles constantly passing by just feet from attractive habitat, we would be setting wildlife up for slaughter. The new habitat just a few feet from the highway would also be hazardous to vehicles, with many animals being damaging to automobiles and fatal to motorcycles.

      The system they use now is not broken, and there is no need to break it through short-sighted narrow focused ideas.

      Even with considering safety of humans and wildlife, highways are not the problem. The percentage of land they consume is very small. The real problem we have are sprawling subdivisions, and chemicals used on lawns and farms. The largest cause of wildlife destruction by far is how we live and how we farm, not highways.


  1. […] Roadsides for Wildlife– “Why do townships, cities, and states waste so much money keeping roadsides mowed (and spraying a horrendous amount of herbicides in the process) when these places present the perfect opportunity to provide habitat for butterflies, native bees, and birds?” […]

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