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  • Zoe Zawacki

The Future of Vegetation Management

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

To embrace a more sustainable future, dominated by native ecosystems, mowing habits must change to accommodate for the spread of native plants.

Lee Qin - Unsplash

Over the past couple of years, environmental concerns have changed vegetation management practices throughout the USA. Landowners and municipalities are now making a conscious effort to plant and conserve natural wildlife, rather than fostering invasive species.

Kyle Lybarger is a private forester and conservationist, turned Social Media Influencer. After the boom of his TikTok channel, he founded the Native Habitat Project in 2021 to promote the protection of Alabama’s native grassland ecosystems.

Since then, Kyle has expanded to other social media platforms and has become an active leader, influencing change in vegetation management practices from his local Department of Transportation, DOT, and city.

“I've dealt with our DOT here,” said Kyle. “And the gentleman I deal with, he's been fantastic. He's a nice guy, if you see any invasive species on the roadside, you can call and report it to him. They will come out, spray and kill those plants to stop further spreading.”

Kyle provided insight into the infestation of invasive turf grasses that have spread across the country. He explained that the majority of invasive grasses spread through rhizomes, which allows them to be mowed or grazed down to nothing and still survive.

Most native wildflowers and bunch-type grasses need to go through a full growth cycle, as they spread through seeds. If mowed or grazed continually, no new growth is established, blocking the plants’ ability to germinate and produce seeds.

“Humans like being able to see for a distance to prevent from being snuck up on,” said Kyle. “I think it's that same instinct that now fuels our desire to mow everything. It's tractor therapy. People just like to get a lawnmower and just mow so they can get that clean look.”

When done incorrectly, constant mowing can be detrimental to the spread of native grasses. On the other hand, brush mowing when used as a form of disturbance, is periodically necessary to bring sunlight down to the soil level. This encourages new growth and eliminates the possibility of reforestation.

“If you want to maintain diversity, you want to allow those flowers and native vegetation to go to seed," said Kyle. "It's really important to prescribe that for each situation. If a field is dominated by native species, it is best to let them go to seed every year before I'm mowing.”

Kyle advises that the future of vegetation management will lead to DOTs and landscapers learning the composition of their native vegetation while working to maintain safe roadsides and ensure the preservation of the grassland ecosystem.

“I think it starts by conserving some of those areas where people are going slower, you know, exit ramps, on ramps and places like that. Those are good places to try some of these pollinator plantings. I think any roadside is fine if you're not letting it get too high.”

The fight against invasive species can be won when we all work together to heal neglected areas. Mowing can be used to remove these invasives and bring sunlight down to the soil to awaken growth in the native seed bank.

Each state’s biodiversity is unique. Thanks to Kyle's influence, more vegetation managers are becoming aware of what invasive species are and how to combat them. Knowledge, spot treatment, and planned mowing are essential tools in the fight against invasives.

"People seem really interested, in that people want to do good," said Kyle. "They just don't know what's natural and what's not natural and what practices are hindering their property. It's just going to

take the right people in the right places and we're going to have to stay active to ensure that these places are protected."

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