Shawnee News-Star Blog 28 April 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg The coral honeysuckle featured in the Wednesday (April 26th 2017) Shawnee News-Star Landscaping edition was cut down 90% by the county the very next morning.   The vines were covered in brilliant tube flowers that were very apparent.   I flagged down the guy in his heated tractor [...]

Shawnee News-Star Blog 28 April 2017

The Ravaged Native Honeysuckle after trimming

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The coral honeysuckle featured in the Wednesday (April 26th 2017) Shawnee News-Star Landscaping edition was cut down 90% by the county the very next morning.   The vines were covered in brilliant tube flowers that were very apparent.   I flagged down the guy in his heated tractor with insulated lunch box tucked to the side.   He told me his orders were to cut things back.   A man on a mission. The day before he drove up and down the county roads where I live and chopped many years-old grape vines at their base.   The sumac, sand plums, rusty blackhaw viburnum, and rough leaf dogwoods that grew along fences, but not under power lines, were decimated.   These are short-growing wildlife food trees that do not reach 8 feet tall!   Large tree branches 20 feet or higher that dared to approach the road within 10 feet were twisted, chopped or maimed.  Do the county employees know anything about the plants their technological advancements are so energetically dismembering?

The man's tractor was equipped with a mowing arm that could extend over 30 feet out or up to get every last thing the regular mowing decks couldn't reach.  State law permits counties to maintain right-of-ways defined as 33 feet from the center line of the road, but does not say the counties must do this. The plants that did anchor the soil on the sharply slanted eroding slopes and even growing in the ditches were cut.  Controlling loss of soil also keeps the water clearer. The new generation of Maximillian sunflowers, Gauras, lead plants, evening primroses, milkweeds, dewberries, Indian paintbrush and others could no longer be found.  The spring trimming was done with intensity and aggression.   Pity the man couldn't hear the trees scream in pain.

Another pruned tree

I asked the mower operator if he had heard about the tribes and others who are trying to develop wildlife pollinator corridors throughout the 77 counties.  The state of Oklahoma has modified their mowing schedule along the state roads to accommodate the wildflowers, especially the milkweed.   Why did he cut down the honeysuckle? He told me the vines killed the trees.   I replied that those opossum grape vines, green briar and coral honeysuckle vines are an intricate part of the Cross Timbers ecosystem. The trees and vines have lived together for hundreds of years.   Not only are they participants in the food chain, the vines don't kill healthy trees.  It's like saying birds or squirrels building nests in trees will kill the trees.  He shook his head, revved up the engine and continued.  It's a shame that as he meticulously manicured and mowed he couldn't have picked up all the cans and trash as well.

Indeed, road maintenance is important.   We are supposed to keep the ranchers and farmers happy.   What about the rest of us taxpayers?   What about nature? The problem is nature doesn't exactly talk or pay taxes, but its value is priceless.  The impression most people have of nature is made as they gaze out their car or truck window while roaring down the road, hitting the occasional animal, snake or multitudes of birds, butterflies, moths and bees, cursing the mess on their windscreens. Oops.   No matter how disconnected people become, they are still custodians of earth and her inhabitants.   Would they prefer their roads only to be edged with thick stands of invasive non-native Johnson grass rather than groups of Coreopsis or sunflowers?   Ironically, the ranchers brought in the Johnson grass, originally from the Mediterranean region, for forage.   The vigorous grass chokes out most other plants and ranks in the top 10 most noxious weeds in the entire world.

Emerging Milkweed in Horse Pasture

When the ranchers cut to one side of the fence and the county to the other, the wildlife habitat is sacrificed.   Especially during the spring and summer, could the county maintain a four foot border to each side of the road?   This minimizes the tall 'weeds'; beyond the mow area the rest of the native plants and flowers can grow and bloom.   If the area from the road to fence is twenty feet, the remaining 15 feet could be a wildlife habitat.a corridor if you will.   Nature will find a balance and it will probably involve wildflowers.   The development of wildlife corridors as well as pollinator lanes is taking root in this country.   The Monarch butterfly corridor from Texas to the Dakotas is under construction, with large areas of wildflowers being cultivated along major roads.   The Monarch is our canary in a coal mine.   If that butterfly is in trouble, what about others?

You like to eat?   For every third bite you stuff into your mouth, thank your small pollinators.   Over thirty percent of all crops are dependent on these busy bees.

This could be a Monarch Butterfly Corridor.

So.let's make our county beautiful and wildlife friendly. Have you seen a Monarch flutter around you or heard the sweet song of the field sparrow lately?