Dear Department of Roads

Dear Nebraska Department of Roads:

For decades our narrow highway has been at the top of your most-urgent-projects list and we are thrilled to see our dream coming true. Driving on the first new segments, we appreciate seeing that hills are now flatter and curves more gradual.

Big things are happening fast, and none too soon. Even though two lives have been lost this winter on our highway, we continue to drive too fast and try to pass where there is no room. We are counting on this highway to make us safer.

Small things are also happening fast.

Trees removed ahead of highway widening

Trees removed ahead of highway widening

Bucket loaders and  scrapers remove whole rows of mature trees and roadside shrubs in a day. The 20-foot pile of trees that burned near our county road this week is only the latest in a series that has preceded the advancing construction.

What is our plan to replace these trees?   The sodbuster law would require mitigation if a landowner developed native prairies. A wetlands law would require mitigation if we disturbed wetlands.

Your own Plan for the Roadside Environment (2008, p. 13) states your aim to “minimize effects on biotic communities, limiting possible negative effects of construction and maintenance activities on the living features of the natural systems the roadway corridors traverse. “

Our highways are important wildlife habitat. Roadside planting of prairie grass and flowers has been customary for the Nebraska Department of Roads since the 1980s. But grass is only a start. Are we still the Tree Planter State?

What bird would nest along a busy highway?

Remains of 3 nests near highway with traffic

Several birds nested on the edge of this highway last summer.

Birds nest only where food is available. The insects they depend on are only available where native plants grow. The nests in the accompanying picture are left from last summer’s dickcissels or goldfinches, indigo buntings or yellowthroats. All of these birds are on the Audubon Society’s radar as their habitat is being cleared across the great plains. The same is true of our state bird, the meadowlark, which nests in tall grass.

A glance east or west of Highway 133 will confirm that bigger farm equipment is prompting farmers to remove fences and accompanying native trees and shrubs. Roadsides are becoming crucial wildlife refuge. We leveled their habitat, we need to replace it.

When these trees go, what habitat is left?

When these trees go, what habitat is left?

As you inspect the construction, look also at the fields beyond. With a new blank slate along the roadside, decide where trees and shrubs would enhance the highway. Start planning for new native black cherries, buckeyes and hickories, an occasional bur oak, and clusters of wild plum and dogwood.

One for each tree and shrub removed. Thank you.

 

  1. Linda, you need to update your posts! Where are all your spring and summer blooms? I want something to read when I’m taking a break :roll:

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