BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A Lee County woman who’s been pushing the county to stop mowing so deeply into rural ditches asked again Tuesday for a stop to the process.
Margot Sprenger, who has been pushing the county to let more of Iowa’s native plants grow along county roadsides, came to the regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors with another reason to stop the deep mowing.
Sprenger had several two foot sections of dead wild parsnip in tow and offered a branch to each supervisor.
“Are you all familiar with the wild parsnip?,” she said walking among the supervisors with the dead plants.
“I know you want to stay away from it,” said supervisor Gary Folluo as she brought it around.
“Well, I’d cut you all a piece but I guess you don’t want it,” she said.
Sprenger said she was coming to the board as a landowner with a concern that the deeper mowing that the county has started doing is lending to facilitating the growth of the poisonous plant on her land that is part of the conservation reserve program or CRP land. She said the mowing, which on her land had approached three times per year, was causing the seed from the noxious weed to be spread into her land.
Parsnip is a wild growing poisonous weed that, according to the Iowa State University Extension office, causes skin irritation due to sunlight activating the toxins causing a breakdown of tissues and cells in the skin.
“Two years ago, I didn’t have hardly any of this plant and now I’ve got these plants 30 and 45 feet into the field and I bet I show you this next year and you’ll see 100s,” Sprenger said.
She said the county started mowing 15-feet into county ditches instead of the five or six foot several years back.
“What started this was I only had one simple question. I wanted to see only five or six foot mowing along county roads. What we have now is 15 feet. You’re getting a lot more damage done. I don’t understand the reason for it.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug moved the question to Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and Lee County Engineer Ernie Steffensmeier, whose department also oversees secondary roads.
Weber said it’s a safety issue as far as he’s concerned.
“I’ve listened to a lot of this and have respect for what you’re doing, but have you hit a deer lately and had the airbag blow up in your face?” Weber asked Sprenger. “Because that’s a pretty dangerous thing. Fifteen to twenty feet gives you time to see eye-shine and gives you more time to react, time to slow down.”
Sprenger said mowing actually creates a more lush area for deer to eat and cited instances where landowners in Des Moines County stopped mowing and the incidents of deer/car collisions went down.
Weber said he’s testified in a case where Iowa was being sued for not mowing far enough back which was alleged to have caused an accident.
Pflug said he agreed with the sheriff that increased visibility helps motorists avoid collisions with deer.
“If you’re going down the road and you have that cleared back you have a better chance of seeing animals and deer there,” he said.
But Sprenger said, in most cases, driving puts you above the native plants.
“When you’re in a car or pickup you’re way on top of many of these natives. So it’s not an issue of you not seeing a deer poking out of there.”
Steffensmeier said the mowing can’t take place until July 15 and even with a five or six foot mow they would have to go back to 15 to 20 feet in the fall.
“Eventually we’re going to have to mow that all the way back to keep the brush under control, but we’re starting earlier just because of the volume of land we have to mow.”
Steffensmeier said the county has 740 miles of roadway in the county that are graveled.
The county is looking at creating a roadside management program in the next budget to help address Sprenger’s issues and help maintain healthy and safe roadsides that also benefit the environment.
Sprenger asked the board to leave the meeting with adjusting the policy to just mow deeper at intersections, but leave the five foot mow in the other areas.
The board took no action on the matter other than agreeing to continue to look at the roadside management program as part of next year’s budget.
In other action, the board:
- approved three tax abatement resolutions, 5-0.
- approved a transfer of personnel from the Records to the Community Service program, 5-0.
- approved an annual courthouse security report, 5-0.
- heard from a Lee County resident who requested the county post reduced speed limit signs on county roads near 253rd Street south of Hwy 2 due to high speeds and accidents in the area.