Understanding and responding to landowner concerns

If landowners are dissatisfied with how roadside vegetation appears or is being managed, it is important to ask clarifying questions to understand their concerns before responding. Two common landowner concerns with potential clarifying questions and responses are provided below as examples. The questions and responses were gathered from audience feedback during a talk about communication at the 2023 roadside conference.

Example 1. A landowner is unsatisfied with the appearance of roadside plants and brush. Some potential clarifying questions are below: 

  • What brought you to the country from the city?
  • Define unclean look? What specifically is unappealing to you about the roadside?
  • What do you find undesirable?
  • What would you like to know about how the roadsides are managed?

There are some example personalized responses that are tailored to the landowner’s concerns:

  • Talk about the vegetation, introduce species and help aid a connection for them with specific plants, which may change the person’s mind about the whole look.
  • Enhancing roadsides is an investment for Iowa’s native habitat and wildlife that also keeps our roadsides safe.

Example 2. A landowner is concerned about roadside weeds encroaching onto their property. Some potential clarifying questions are below:

  • Which weeds are causing you problems?
  • What specific weed pressure issues do you have?
  • What practices are you using to control weed pressure on your property? 

There are some example personalized responses that are tailored to the landowner’s concerns:

  • Let’s work together to determine where the problem is coming from and a future management goal.
  • I would like to come take a look at the problem, assess the area, and come up with a solution for both the county and you as a landowner.
  • Native long-lived plants in roadsides suppress the kinds of weeds that tend to cause problems in crop fields.
  • The weeds are coming from the neighbor, not us.

Preventing mowing and spraying of plantings

Some roadside managers have found that talking to directly to landowners or placing doorknob hangars that include contact information on people’s houses explaining why you are planting and maintaining native plants in the roadside helps prevent adjacent landowners from mowing or spraying roadside vegetation. Communication is key. Sometimes, after you have spent years maintaining a planting or remnant, you may still find that the adjacent landowner routinely mows it or intentionally sprays it with herbicides, violating the Iowa Code (check the most updated versions of Iowa Code 317.11 and 317.13, which include restrictions on landowners regarding haying, burning, mowing, or spraying in areas managed using an IRVM plan). What can you do? 

If you want to pursue monetary damages you can consult with your county attorney who can notify the landowner responsible for the damages. If the landowner or farm operator has inadvertently sprayed the planting, they may have liability insurance that will pay for damages and can reach a settlement with the county attorney, usually without legal action. The settlement time is generally around 9-12 months. Word gets around and it sends a message to other people that the county will enforce Iowa Code that applies to roadside vegetation. 

For sites that have been sprayed you can call the Pesticide Bureau at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) to send out a pesticide inspector who will take vegetative samples to determine if spraying/drift occurred, conduct an investigation, and issue a report, but IDALS cannot enforce anything on your behalf; that is up to the county. 

The Iowa State Association of Counties General Counsel (515-369-7014) can be a good resource for questions regarding sections of Iowa Code that apply to roadside vegetation management.

Letters and permits

Iowa Code Section 317.13 requires a county to require permits for burning, mowing, or spraying of roadsides by individuals; these activities must be consistent with the adopted IRVM plan. This subsection only applies to roadside areas of a county that are included in an IRVM plan. Example permits are included in the appendix.

Counties may also choose to create permits for individuals to collect seed, plant native seed or plants, or manage the invasive species in roadsides bordering their property.