Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Passing the Weed Inspection

Several years ago, my landlady sent me a nasty-gram email from the city with a little smiley face attached to her note: our address had been cited by the Office of Neighborhood Services for a Weed Violation. It was noted by a city official that there were "weeds in excess of 12 inches" growing throughout the property. At that time, my landlady (now a resident of Los Angeles, California) alerted us that she had received weed violations in the past, and tried, in vain, to work with local officials to recognize that her "weeds" were beneficial to pollinators, wildlife, and so forth. She battled with them for several years, even secured an interview with the local NPR affiliate about her struggle. So, when the weed violations ended up in her post office box in California for the property that she owns in Missouri, she wasn't too concerned. Her note to us was "work on this ASAP. I know the yard isn't full of weeds!" But the threat of the city mowers brush-hogging all of the yard and sending her the bill for it wasn't very desirable either.

It must have been almost four years ago that the first Weed Violation came in during our tenure at our present residence. At that time, I had amassed a plant list for the yard of 125 vascular plant species, none of them planted, all having been volunteers from our regularly occurring prescribed fire events. We live on a flatwoods, a classic Missouri River Hills landscape with a massive old growth chinquapin oak and scattered walnuts and black oaks. The vegetation isn't of the highest quality, of course, having been mowed and grazed and treated like a lawn for many years. My house was built in 1906 and has had only two owners and lots of careless renters who parked their cars on the "lawn," damaging trees, but no real maintenance of the yard (or the knob and tube wiring, our appraiser has kindly told us for insurance purposes). So the Weed Inspector himself came to the house after we showed up at his office with a plant list, an insect list, a map of the trees, and a detailed plan of the regular ecosystem management we conduct on an annual basis.

At that time, the Weed Inspector went through the yard, truly impressed with the biodiversity, all the legumes and long-lived perennial wildflowers, and asked that we post a sign that lets passers by and other civic officials recognize that the area is not overgrown from benign neglect, but is being managed as "habitat." Quickly, we posted metal signs issued from the National Wildlife Federation proclaiming our property as a "Backyard Wildlife Habitat" project. Not weeds. We didn't hear from the Weed Inspector for years. Until early August. Same routine: the Office of Neighborhood Services sent a Weed Violation to my landlady in California. She forwards her scanned letter to us two weeks later, giving us five days to "clean up" the yard or show up for a hearing. We spend three days trimming by hand, pulling the grape vines from the fencerow, deadheading the Echinacea that I had planned to leave for the wintering chickadees, and we make an appointment with the Weed Inspector two days before the hearing before City Council.

Maybe the city officials know us? Maybe when I called a week in advance to make an appointment to "discuss the weed ordinance" they took the time to come by the property themselves? Regardless, I showed up at City Hall with my my notebook of plant and insect species, as well as a vasculum of plant specimens from the yard that might be considered "weeds" because they are "tall." Helianthus hirsutus, Silphium perfoliatum, Desmodiums, native Lespedezas, all native flora from the yard. The Weed Inspector came out to the lobby and didn't even show us to his office. "I went by your house. I saw your sign in the yard. I can tell you don't have weeds, you have native plants. It's your neighbors who are the problem....." Success without the litany of the benefits of "gardening for wildlife" and so forth. Two weeks later, the yard is still in tact, the city's brush-hogger mowed the abandoned lot next door, all covered in rank fescue and thistle. My Helianthus hirsutus is about to start blooming, the ageratum is in full bloom, the Desmodiums are in bloom, and for at least one more growing season, the yard is in tact.


Luis said...

Hello Allison,

I have an urgent question regarding Butler Hollow Glades. As you may know, the USFS plans a decades long project on 18,000-Acres using prescribed fire and herbicides ... to restore glades. Would you please let me know how I can reach you?

The deadline for public comments is Sept 10

Kind regards,

Dr. Luis Contreras

Allison Vaughn said...

Hi Luis, I am extremely familiar with the Butler project and the 2005 Forest Plan which dictates the actions proposed. Please send me your email contact for discussion--I won't publish it, but also don't want to publish my personal account, either. Will keep it private.....Would like to discuss.