To prevent invasive plants from taking over roadways in the Big Piney, Pleasant Hill and Boston Mountain ranger districts of the Oark-St. Francis National Forests, a strategy was proposed in 2018 to combat them. Full implementation of the project has been retarded due to a variety of constraints placed on the agencies during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Non-Native Plant Species and Roadside Vegetation Management Control Project calls for using herbicides to control vegetation for maintenance in and around infrastructure improvements such as roads, trails, guard rails and signs. Herbicides will also be used to treat non-native invasive plant species as they appear across the three ranger districts.
Kayti Ewing, Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) botanist said the project activities are located on National Forest Lands in Benton, Conway, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Madison, Newton, Pope, Searcy, Van Buren and Washington counties.
According to the environmental assessment and the finding of no significant impact, the project area has approximately 158 miles of state highways, 591 miles of county roads, 520 miles of designated trails, 3,333 acres of administration sites and 4,598 miles of Forest Service and private roads used to access the area for a variety of purposes ranging from forest management to recreational uses.
In addition, there are 1,168 miles of utility corridors providing various amenities ranging from natural gas to electricity.
ARDOT is working with the US Forest Service, but face to face meetings between personnel on an implementation plan has not been able to happen during the pandemic, Ewing said.
The vegetation contained within the rights-of-ways create various safety and management issues. There are areas where vegetation, such as a non-native species of Lespedeza, is growing through the highway and shoulder surfaces and encroaching into and along the edges of the pavement reducing its lifespan. Another invasive species includes Japanese stilt grass which seems to appear everywhere, Ewing noted.
ARDOT proposed the use of herbicides to maintain infrastructure on National Forest lands. ARDOT has been maintaining road surfaces and infrastructure in this manner across the state.