Training

Job shadowing neighboring roadside manager

After the roadside manager has started, the TPC roadside program manager will give the person an opportunity to job shadow an experienced roadside manager from a nearby county who is willing to be a resource for new roadside managers. This allows the new roadside manager to develop an early one-on-one relationship with a peer and learn how another county approaches roadside management.

Chemical safety/handling

Controlled pesticide application is another useful part of the IRVM toolkit. Pesticide use
on roadside ROWs is considered public pesticide application, which requires a Commercial Pesticide Application license. To become certified, the roadside manager must pass a 50-question, closed book exam over the Core Manual - Iowa Commercial Pesticide Applicator Manual; pass a 35-question exam specific to right-of-way pesticide application; and pay a $15 fee for public applicators. Information on testing dates can be found on the "Applicator Licensing and Certification" page of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship website. 

Commercial driver’s license – Iowa DOT

To obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), applicants must complete applicable entry-level driver training from a registered training provider. Training providers can charge an average of $4,000. For more information, see the Training Provider Registry on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website.

Chainsaw safety

There are several options for in-person chainsaw safety training:

  • Have a representative from the company that manufactures the chainsaws you are using come to your shop and train your employees. One advantage of this is that they can also look at your equipment and let you know if the equipment needs maintenance. A drawback is that some representatives may be less familiar with providing field demonstrations of safe brush removal techniques.
  • Find experienced county conservation employees who periodically conduct chainsaw training.
  • Find a nearby land management organization or nature center that periodically conducts chainsaw training.
  • Attend chainsaw training at a community college with a land management program. For example, Hawkeye Community College has offered chainsaw training that it is classroom-based with a representative from Stihl.
  • Get trained from an organization that regularly conduct chainsaw training; these are more common in Wisconsin and Minnesota. One example is Blue Heron Stewardship in Wisconsin.

These are some useful online resources for chainsaw training:


Roadside manager insights

Stihl posts very good chainsaw safety, operation, & maintenance videos on YouTube. I’ve had good success having one of my more experienced and willing crew members present the video and give pointers to illustrate how the video applies to our particular situation. I think that formula works just as well as an outside trainer in making a connection to the crew. 

-Steve Struble, Harrison County Engineer, 2020 


Prescribed burning

Controlled burns are a useful and cost-effective IRVM management tool. Burning roadsides helps to control weeds, eliminate brush, and return nutrients to the soil. The Iowa DNR Forestry website lists relevant courses in prescribed burning. To become Red Card certified in controlled burns, one must complete a one-day field day (as part of the S-130 Firefighter Training course), as well as a series of online courses. Field day options are usually listed on the Iowa DNR website in early spring.

Plant identification

Identifying native and non-native plants is a vital skill for a roadside manager. While recognizing noxious weeds may seem like the most important part of a weed commissioner’s work, it is just as important to recognize where native prairie plants remain. Many prairie remnants are found on the sides of roads and train tracks, as both are traditionally undisturbed areas. Remnant prairies are especially well-adapted for their environment, which makes them valuable sources for native seed. 

Plant identification resources exist for every learning style. Commonly used resources are listed below. 

Webinars

Webinars produced by the Tallgrass Prairie Center

Other webinars

  • Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D): Plant identification webinar recordings, many that are taught by botanist Dr. Tom Rosburg. Some of the webinars might be especially useful to roadside managers.
    • Invasive and Native Look-alike Plant Species in Iowa
    • Common Weeds & Invasive Species of Iowa
    • Cirsium (Thistle Identification)

Books

  • Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (Newcomb, 1989): Newcomb’s is the textbook used for the Botany Beginners courses. This guide contains both native and non-native wildflowers, shrubs, and vines. Its breadth (1,375 species) and easy-to-use key make it a valuable resource.

  • Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie (Runkel and Roosa, 2010). This guide contains high-quality images of 78 species, most of which are wildflowers. This guide is particularly useful for prairie remnants and information on ethnobotany. It is arranged in order of flowering time. This guide doesn’t include a key and has less species than the other books mentioned. The guide’s creators also produced complementary field guides for the wetlands and forests of the upper Midwest. 

  • Prairie Plants of the University of the Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum (Cochrane, Elliot, and Lipke, 2015). The most detailed guide on this list. Prairie Plants includes horsetails, ferns, rushes, sedges, grasses, shrubs, vines, weeds, and wildflowers, and features both flower and fruit photos. Because Prairie Plants is arranged by plant family, and doesn’t have a key, it is recommended for audiences who are already familiar with botany.

  • Weeds of the Great Plains (Stubbendieck, 2003). Common weeds found in Nebraska and neighboring states, including Iowa.

  • The Tallgrass Prairie Center has also produced a native seed production manual, a seed-bearing plant identification guide, and a guide to tallgrass prairie seed and seedling identification. 

Websites

  • USDA PLANTS Database: Located within the USDA website. PLANTS provides standardized information about vascular and nonvascular plants, and is useful for finding federal and state listings of weeds that are considered introduced, invasive, and noxious. 

  • Minnesota Wildflowers: Field-guide style website with photos and information on Minnesota wild plants, with a variety of methods to search for plants. 

  • Illinois Wildflowers: Provides useful ecological information on the wild plants of Illinois. 

  • Iowa Weed Commissioners: Includes weed identification brochures from nearby states and the Hawkeye Cooperative Weed Management website.

Plant ID Apps

Because plant ID apps aren’t 100% accurate, it is important to learn the basics of plant identification using the resources above and be able to understand plant identification techniques from a professional perspective. That said, it is useful to be aware of the more reputable plant ID apps as a tool in your toolbox and to be aware of for members of the public who ask about apps. Here are two that have been well-reviewed for amateur botanists.

Conferences and field days

Conferences attended by roadside managers

The conferences listed below offer opportunities to network and continue relevant training. Most roadside managers attend the winter AFIRM meeting and the annual roadside conference. Those who are also weed commissioners attend the weed commissioners conference, also known as the Iowa invasive species conference. All three conferences include a lot of information directly related to roadside vegetation management and counties and cities would do well to budget for roadside managers to attend these meetings. 

The other meetings listed are attended by a smaller number of roadside managers, often those who live near the meeting location. The TPC roadside program manager may have a limited number of scholarships available to cover the registration fee for roadside managers who want to attend these meetings. The registration fee for roadside managers who table to promote roadside management at the Streets and Roads Conference, Engineers Conference, and Statewide Supervisors Meeting may also be covered.

Winterfest—Iowa County Conservation System

  • Typically held for three days the third or fourth week of January in Coralville.
  • Provides a variety of sessions led by academics and professionals working in conservation in Iowa and in nearby states.
  • Attended by variety of county conservation staff, with many college students attending on Wednesday for collegiate day; vendors with tables.

Winter Meeting—Association for Integrated Roadside Management (AFIRM)

  • Annual one-day meeting in late February or early to mid-March.
  • Topics of interest to roadside vegetation managers are discussed.

Invasive Species Conference—Iowa Weed Commissioners’ Association

  • Annual three-day meeting in late February or early to mid-March over the days immediately following AFIRM meeting; a special meeting for new weed commissioners is held during the late afternoon the day of the AFIRM meeting.
  • Opportunity for continuing education in pesticide application.
  • Attended by weed commissioners and conservation professionals whose role includes weed management; presentations by researchers and practitioners; vendors with tables.

Iowa Prairie Conference

  • Held every other year (typically in the years the North American Prairie Conference isn’t held) at a location in Iowa.
  • Talks about managing and restoring tallgrass prairie, with a focus on Iowa.
  • Attended by natural resource professionals, researchers, and prairie enthusiasts.

North American Prairie Conference

  • Four-day meeting held every other year during the summer at a location in the central U.S.
  • Conference focused on developments in managing and restoring tallgrass prairie ecosystems.
  • Attended by researchers, students, and stewardship professionals; vendors with tables.

Roadside Conference—Iowa Roadside Management

  • Annual three-day meeting in September or October, including an afternoon of field trips.
  • Attended by roadside managers, DOT staff, and others interested in roadside management; vendors with tables.

Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference

  • Three-day meeting held every other year in mid-October to mid-November.
  • One of the most comprehensive and largest invasive species conferences in the U.S.
  • Attended by wide variety of researchers, natural resource professionals, and government agency staff; vendors with tables.

Conferences with a roadside management table

The TPC Roadside Office typically has a table about roadside vegetation management at some of the events below; either the TPC roadside program manager or roadside managers may table. A small number of roadside managers may also attend some of these conferences on behalf of their county or city without tabling.

Statewide Supervisors Meeting

  • One-day meeting held in early February in Des Moines.
  • Attended by members of county boards of supervisors; vendors with tables.

Iowa State Association of Counties Spring Conference

  • Three-day conference held in March in Des Moines.
  • Attended by all types of county employees; vendors with tables.

Iowa Statewide Association of Counties Fall Conference

  • Three-day conference held in August in Des Moines. 
  • Attended by all types of county employees; vendors with tables.

Iowa County Conservation System Fall Conference

  • Three-day conference held in mid-September at a location in Iowa.
  • Attended by county conservation staff, with more conservation board directors and others in leadership positions attending than at Winterfest; vendors with tables.

Iowa Streets and Roads Workshop and Conference

  • One-day workshop and two-day conference held in late September in Ames.
  • Attended by secondary road and street maintenance supervisors and staff and others interested in road and street maintenance; vendors with tables.

County Engineers Conference

  • Three-day conference held in mid-December in Des Moines.
  • Attended by county engineers and other secondary road department staff; many vendors with tables.

Field days

Many conservation-oriented organizations and equipment dealers offer useful field days. The organizations listed below host a variety of virtual and in-person field events.

Practical Farmers of Iowa

  • Series of free field days over the growing season on a wealth of topics related to sustainable agriculture, including relevant topics like prairie seeding and burning.
  • Attended by natural resource professionals and private landowners.

Prairie on Farms Program (Tallgrass Prairie Center)

  • One or two field days on planting successful native plantings on agricultural fields; held during some years, not necessarily every year.
  • Attended by farmers and natural resource professionals interested in prairie restoration.

Hawkeye Cooperative Weed Management Area invasive species field day 

  • Annual field day held in August at a location in eastern Iowa.
  • Topics include managing various kinds of invasive species and other land management topics.
  • Attended by natural resource professionals and private landowners; some vendors with tables.

Iowa Learning Farms 

  • Free online webinar series on topics related to land management, from soil health to improved water quality to pollinator conservation. 
  • All webinars are archived on the Iowa Learning Farms website.

Email Lists and E-Newsletters

Joining an email list and e-newsletter can be a good way to keep up with the latest news in roadside equipment and vegetation management. Here are some that roadside managers have found useful.

Roadside management email list

The TPC roadside program manager maintains a Google Group email list called Roadside Management. Email the TPC roadside program manager to be added to the list. Anyone who is part of the group can search archives of previous questions and pose a question to the list at roadside-management@uni.edu. Some people prefer to ask the TPC roadside program manager to post their question the list. Members pose questions about others’ experience with equipment, share job ads, and post time-dependent news that can’t wait for the monthly Roader’s Digest e-newsletter.

Roader’s Digest e-newsletter

The Roader’s Digest e-newsletter, the “Newsletter of the Iowa Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Program,” was begun by the TPC roadside program and existed as a paper newsletter from 1989 to 2001. In 2017 it was reinstated as a monthly e-newsletter.

Midwest Invasive Plant Network e-newsletter

The MIPN e-newsletter relays information on invasive plant news in the region. People can sign up on the MIPN website and search past newsletters on the MIPN website.

Iowa Native Plants

The Iowa Native Plant Society maintains a discussion list available to anyone interested in native plants.

Professional Organizations

Belonging to one or more of the following organizations can be helpful for making professional connections and keeping up with innovations in vegetation management: