|Star Tribune photo by David Joles|
Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say a Minnesota law that prohibits roadside mowing before Aug. 1 and after Aug. 31 is widely ignored, Marcotty writes. DOT only issues about 40 permits per year for 12,000 miles of state-owned roadway. One problem is that DOT has no power to enforce the rule or issue penalties. Landowners say they have been mowing roadside ditches and grassy shoulders for decades without government intrusion.
With corn, soybeans and other crops constantly expanding, "Minnesota has lost large expanses of grass and other crops available for livestock forage," Marcotty writes. "Since 2007, the state has lost 700,000 acres of conservation land on farms plus many thousands more as high prices for corn and soybeans pushed out pastures and hedgerows." Some farmers say that has led to roadside mowing being "the only source of hay for their animals. The shift also means there is far less wild growth for pheasants, managed honeybees, wild insects and, perhaps most critically of all, monarchs, which can only reproduce on milkweed that is rapidly disappearing."
Another problem is that many landowners are not aware of the laws, Marcotty writes. Paul Lanoue, who raises cattle, corn and soybeans, said "in rural Minnesota, landowners adjacent to the roads largely believe they own the land to the centerline and the government has rights to use it. While that’s largely true for county and township roads, it’s not so for the state." He told Marcotty, “We didn’t know they were the state’s ditches. We figured they were ours.”