IRVM techniques were introduced to Iowa in the mid-1980s in response to the need for groundwater and surface water protection. Prior to that time roadside weed control had relied exclusively on herbicides, with most counties employing an application method known as blanket spraying, also known as broadcast spraying, to spray wide swaths of the roadside. 

Besides being expensive and potentially harmful, blanket spraying was an ineffective means of weed control, creating openings for weeds by stressing and weakening roadside grasses and eliminating beneficial broadleaf species. Iowa counties were spending a lot of money putting large amounts of herbicide into the environment and, at the same time, making little or no headway in the control of roadside weeds. Clearly, this type of roadside management proved unsustainable.

Another development of the mid-1980s was the Iowa Department of Transportation’s use of native prairie grasses and wildflowers to control erosion and save money on fuel since native plants require less mowing than cool-season grasses. A few county conservation boards were also experimenting with this naturally adapted, alternative vegetation for roadsides. 

When the Iowa Legislature officially adopted IRVM in 1988, the cornerstone of the program became the establishment and protection of native vegetation in Iowa roadsides. The Living Roadway Trust Fund was created the following year, supporting state, city, and county roadside projects. For more information about the history of IRVM and the LRTF, see the 2018 report created by Jean Eells entitled “Iowa’s Living Roadway Trust Fund and Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Program.”

Since that time over 100,000 acres of state and county road right-of-way have been planted to native vegetation. Diverse stands of 15–45 prairie grass and wildflower species—all naturally adapted to local growing conditions—provide stable, low-maintenance roadsides for Iowa.