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Haying roadsides uprooting, destroying nesting habitat of waterfowl, other birds

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WILLMAR -- At least one wildlife professional is concerned about the state of roadside ditches this summer.

Scott Glup, project leader at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Litchfield, doesn't like what he's seeing.

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"There's a lot of road right-of-way haying going on. Most of the ground birds are nesting there. The nesting season is roughly about this time," he said.

Glup said a number of people have told him they've seen an increase in the haying as well.

Why?

"A couple of weeks ago, I noticed an awful lot of haying going on," Glup said. "It was a little earlier than normal and more than normal. I found out that the hay prices are higher. I've also heard that with all the flooding in Iowa, their hay market was struggling."

While you can't fault people for taking advantage of a market fluctuation, you can fault them if their actions circumvent the law.

There are several state statutes that apply to roadside mowing. But for the most part, it comes down to who owns the right-of-way, Glup said.

Let's say a landowner owns the right-of-way and there is an easement with a governing body, most likely the state. If this is the case, the landowner can hay his ditches anytime.

But if a government body, like a county, owns the right-of-way, the law says the county cannot hay the ditch until July 31.

Of course, the area can be mowed by the local road authority to control invasive species and eliminate safety hazards, but they are regulated as to how far back and how low they can cut.

The USFWS' Litchfield office mainly manages wetlands, which makes nesting in roadside ditches a major topic. Glup said haying ditches before the nesting season ends is detrimental to a lot of wildlife. Waterfowl, pheasants and other ground birds nest in the tall grasses.

"I've seen a pair of mallards in a mowed ditch. That tells me that their nest got mowed over," he said. "Not only are you destroying the nest, you're probably killing the hen."

The Litchfield office manages 151 Waterfowl Production Areas in seven counties totaling 34,322 acres. Not one of them will be hayed.

"Our office has been trying to enforce these rules on our lands. We're all about wildlife and nesting cover, so we're against the haying until after the date," Glup said. "So we've been in contact with landowners who have been mowing before the date. Last year we sent out notices to the counties and townships, letting them know that we will be monitoring this."

The problem exists in other parts of the state, too. Pete Schaefer at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' office in Nicollet said it's a busy time of year for him.

"I get hundreds of phone calls a year at this time of year from people who are upset," he said. You can understand the value of that resource, but under the statute it's illegal."

Schaefer and Glup also noted that there are people who hay ditches they have no right to, whether another landowner has an easement or the county owns the right-of-way.

"There are disputes going on between landowners about the haying," Glup said.

Glup and his staff spent a lot of time restoring wetlands and getting rid of nuisance species. He knows how important habitat is for wildlife to survive.

"There's not a lot of habitat and what there is of it is being hayed," he said.

For more information on the Minnesota State Statute regarding roadside right-of-way, visit www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/stats and search for statute 160.232A. For more information on the DNR's Roadsides for Wildlife program, visit mndnr.gov and search "roadside wildlife".

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