Native plants and prairies

Many prairie remnants exist on Wisconsin Department of Transportation's rights of way. In these situations, the plant communities are often relatively intact, undisturbed by agricultural and construction activities.

In the early 1990’s, the department began an inventory of roadside vegetation before funding ceased the completed inventories were evaluated to determine if there are quality remnants of native prairies remaining on state highway rights of way. During this process, over 20 high quality sites were identified. 

The department continues to maintain these prairie remnants as well as actively trying to re-establish native plants along roadsides by using special native seed mixes. Maintenance policy also allows much of native vegetation that exists along the roadside to be preserved.

This began in the mid 1970’s when the department began planting native grasses and forbs on roadsides and roadside sites such as safety rest areas and waysides. Initial efforts began as part of the federal Operation Wildflower program in cooperation with local garden clubs.

This evolved into special seeding items in highway construction project special provisions, and finally to several standard native seed mixes in Standard Specification Section 630 for Highway and Structure Construction.

Facilities development manual 27-25-5 describes steps to be taken to preserve and protect native plants. It also describes the process of establishing native seeding as well as long-term management needs.

The Highway Maintenance Manual(HMM) 07-05-30, Managing Prairie Remnants and Native Seeding, talks about the department's prairie remnants and management.