Roadside Remnant Communities and Rare Species Conservation in Kentucky: Can We Work with State Transportation Agencies to Identify, Manage and Conserve Important Botanical Areas Along Roadside Right of Ways?

Tara Littlefield and Tony Romano, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves

Roadsides are increasingly recognized for their potential importance in conservation planning. Roadsides are generally less threatened by development than surrounding areas and are maintained in an open condition. Because of these factors, roadsides in Kentucky are one of the few areas that contain remnant native grassland communities. These roadside grasslands often support rare plant species and provide important habitat for pollinating insects including monarch butterflies and native bees. If these resources are not identified and incorporated into management plans, they can be highly vulnerable to harmful management actions and rapidly degrade. Since 2015, the Office of Kentucky Native Preserves (OKNP) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) have worked collaboratively on several plant conservation projects including natural areas acquisition, restoration and planting recommendations, seed collection, and management coordination for several high quality roadside grasslands. In 2019, OKNP, in partnership with KYTC and Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF), updated inventories of remnant grasslands and rare plants along roads in the national forest. To expand on these surveys, OKNP partnered with the Kentucky Native Plant society to create an iNaturalist citizen scientist project where volunteers can contribute their observations of roadside habitats in the national forest. These projects were important for building positive collaboration between ONKP and KYTC, and we are now implementing a broader Pollinator Conservation Strategy to address the conservation needs along our roadsides. In 2020, OKNP is initiating a 5-year statewide survey of Kentucky’s roadsides to establish a baseline of data. This program will document remnant natural communities, rare plants, and high quality pollinator habitat. These surveys will inform coordination with KYTC districts and help prioritize conservation and management of important roadside habitats. This program will develop trainings for KYTC staff and incorporate citizen scientists to expand our reach. We still have a lot of hurdles to cross for roadside plant and pollinator conservation, but partnerships and communication is possible and can provide a path towards achieving conservation goals.