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The District has a ton of concrete, government buildings, and National Park sites, but there’s one type of landscape that’s notably missing from its bustling urban milieu: meadowland.
In certain parts of the city, that may be about to change. The District Department of Energy and Environment, as part of its 2015 Wildlife Action Plan, has launched a pilot program to rehabilitate areas with mowed grass by converting them into meadows. Totaling at least 10 acres, those areas include highway medians, right-of-ways, and other underused patches across all four quadrants of D.C., though there aren’t many planned in more developed neighborhoods downtown. The project seeks to foster animal and plant habitats, create cost-savings for the city as a result of not having to mow the areas as much, and to provide biodiverse green spaces.
“There’s definitely a benefit in saving money and reducing carbon emissions,” explains Damien Ossi, a wildlife biologist for DOEE. “The main benefit residents would see if we get the patches planted with native flowers and grasses is that they would look really nice. It’s a part of our goal to increase the amount of wildlife habitat both for itself—the animals and plants that use it—and for the people who might want to enjoy it.”
DOEE staffers identified potential sites for the project with a geographic survey conducted last year. They’re shown in the map below, where red dots show the highest-priority areas (the most tenable for conversion since they’re bigger and better-connected) and blue dots represent federal or privately-owned properties:
The first site already being treated is located near the cloverleaf interchange at Irving and North Capitol streets NE. If you pass by there now, Ossi says, you’ll see four 75-by-25-feet tarps covering an estimated two acres. The tarps will “solarize” the existing grass and weeds, meaning they’ll get so hot that they’ll die. DOEE plans to plant or seed new, native species there and determine which grow best over the next several months. If all goes well, birds and insects will begin to inhabit the rehabilitated site.
Ossi adds that DOEE is considering planting native species like the Bee Balm (“It’s got this crazy red flower I say looks like a Cyndi Lauper flower; it looks like her crazy red hair”), all sorts of sunflowers (“Not the really big ones that can be 14-feet tall in the Midwest and the prairies; these are four inches across”), and different kinds of asters (“purple or white; those are good because they bloom pretty late into the fall”). The agency will intentionally plant species that peak at different times to keep the site vibrant for most of the year. Among the animals it expects to come along are small butterflies that lay their eggs in the grass, dragonflies, grasshopper sparrows, and woodcocks.
“We’re hoping to plant a pretty good variety of things, maybe between 10 and 15 plant species, so there’s enough diversity that one disease or fungus won’t wipe out everything we plant,” Ossi explains. “The birds will hunt some of the bugs that may not be attractive to people, like bees and wasps.”
The District will have to maintain these sites with occasional mowing to preserve sight-lines, especially near roads, he adds; DOEE will coordinate with the District Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works to upkeep the patches and certify them as meadows.
DOEE will kick off a related series of pollinator plant-seed giveaways next Wednesday at its HQ, at 1200 First St. NE.
Photos via DOEE. h/t Next City