History of Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM)

The tallgrass prairie once covered more than 170 million acres of the United States. Stretching from Indiana to Kansas and Canada to Texas, this sea of grass, sedge and forb species created an intricate ecosystem that dominated the Midwest for roughly 8,000 years. Between 1830 and 1900 the prairie underwent one of the most drastic land transformations in human history. Aided by the steel plow, European settlers steadily converted the prairie into farmland and reduced the area to 2% of its original size by the early 1900s. These effects were even worse in Iowa where 80% of the land area was prairie. We have around 0.1% of the original Iowa prairie remaining today. This once dominant ecosystem had become more endangered then the rainforest.

The concept of Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) has a relatively long history in the state of Iowa; groundwork was underway as early as the mid-1970s to establish one of the nation's first IRVM programs. The goal of this program was to provide an alternative to typical roadside management practices. These practices, including the extensive use of mowing and herbicides, were often too costly to implement on a regular basis, were frequently ineffective and contributed to an increased potential for surface water contamination.

In 1988, the Iowa Legislature established Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) to be implemented along Iowa’s state and county roadways.

Iowa Code, Section 314.22: It is declared to be in the general public welfare of Iowa and a highway purpose for the vegetation of Iowa’s roadsides to be preserved, planted, and maintained to be safe, visually interesting, ecologically integrated, and useful for many purposes.

IRVM integrates the use of native vegetation with appropriate management techniques to produce a cost-effective, environmentally- sound management alternative for roadside weed and erosion control. To achieve Iowa's IRVM objectives, the State IRVM Plan is implemented along state highways through the coordination of the Iowa Department of Transportation. Additionally, many counties have adopted an IRVM plan for managing vegetation along their roadsides.

To date, more than 50,000 acres of state and county roadsides in Iowa have been planted to prairie grasses and forbs. Many of these plantings have been funded by the LRTF, and all help to achieve the objectives of Iowa Roadside Management.