Each year, land owners and others are allowed to harvest hay out of highway rights of way by permit. The Iowa Department of Transportation requires those permits for several reasons, one of which is the protection of habitat.
The Iowa DOT begins the permitting process in the spring, but harvesting hay is not allowed until July 15.
Joy Williams, an agronomist with the Iowa DOT’s roadside development section, said, “July 15 was chosen as a compromise for hay harvesting to begin to both help those wanting to harvest hay and to protect bird habitat. Many people would like to harvest hay sooner and then take a second cutting in September, but that conflicts with the nesting season. It is also hard on the native grasses and does not allow winter cover for birds.”
When early spring weather is cold and damp, later harvesting of hay from the right of way is even more important, especially for pheasant habitat. “Pheasants nest several times throughout the year,” says Todd Bogenschutz, the upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Sometimes nests are destroyed by floods. We probably had a lot of that this year. About 35 to 45 percent of pheasant, 62 percent of quail, and 60 to 70 percent of songbird nests hatch after July first.”
The Iowa DOT has established two periods for harvesting grass within the state-maintained highway right of way.
July 15-Sept. 1:For cool-season grasses and forage legumes (e.g., smooth brome, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, alfalfa, bird’s-foot trefoil)
July 15-Aug. 15:For areas containing warm-season native grasses (e.g., switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, sideoats grama, Canada wildrye)
An Iowa DOT Harvesting and Mowing Permit Application is available from your area representative listed or online at https://forms.iowadot.gov/FormsMgt/External/810050.pdf. The application covers three types of operations: (1) mowing only; (2) harvesting hay in large or small bales; or (3) harvesting plant material other than hay with machinery, by hand or with hand tools.
Contact the representative serving the area nearest where you would like to harvest grass to receive assistance in processing your permit application. In Atlantic contact Vicki Brown at 712-243-7621 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.