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'No Mow May' proposal heads to Superior City Council

A proposed exemption to the city's noxious plant ordinance is designed to support urban pollinators.

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A monarch butterfly rests on Barkers Island Tuesday, August 18, 2020. It may be the most familiar North American butterfly, and is considered an iconic pollinator species.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

SUPEIROR — City residents might be able to leave the lawn mower alone until June.

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The Superior City Council is considering an exemption to its invasive and noxious plant ordinance in support of No Mow May.

No Mow May is a community science initiative that encourages property owners to limit their lawn mowing practices during the month of May to provide pollinators with foraging resources until floral resources become available.

“It’s coming to our consciousness of course that as habitat has been going away our important pollinators are losing their food source,” said Councilor Ruth Ludwig, who introduced the proposal to the city's public works committee Thursday, April 7.

Ludwig said research shows delaying mowing in the spring gives pollinators a chance to thrive.

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Working with the city of Appleton, Wisconsin, researchers Israel Del Toro and Relena R. Ribbons found that homes that participated in No Mow May in 2020 had three times the bee richness and five times the bee abundance and increased floral richness in unmowed areas.

“While our findings cannot conclusively attribute increases in bee abundances and richness to the No Mow May efforts, our data does show that bee pollinators make use of no mow spaces as key floral resources during the early spring in the upper midwestern United States,” Del Toro and Ribbons wrote in a paper on their research available through the National Library of Medicine.

“We want to be careful that we don’t dispose of that plant material until our pollinators have a chance to come out of hibernation,” Ludwig said. “By leaving our lawns alone in the spring, that’s an important food source for them.”

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Linda Cadotte, director of parks, recreation and forestry, said her department has been looking at some of the larger open spaces the city manages and identified three areas where mowing could be postponed in the effort, including the Billings Park Civic Center, Barker’s Island and field space at Heritage Park.

Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said she saw the resolution as a way of encouraging homeowners but hadn’t considered the option of the city participating.

For the first year, Ludwig said the city could designate a few areas where mowing wouldn’t take place to see how it goes and could expand in subsequent years.

Van Sickle asked if it would be possible to start with a position of no mowing in May and city crews and administration could identify areas where mowing is a must.

Cadotte said reservations of public spaces start to ramp up in May and areas that would need to be mowed include ball parks, playgrounds and Billings Park.

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Todd Janigo, director of public works, said before officials consider an ordinance change, he’d like to take a couple of years to see what works. He suggested using a resolution similar to one adopted in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

In Fort Atkinson, rear yards of residential properties and designated city-owned land were exempt from its vegetation ordinance through June 1 last year.

Ludwig said she is working on some modifications to the Fort Atkinson resolution to fit Superior, such as extending the no mow principal to front yards.

The resolution will be presented to the city council for consideration on Tuesday, April 19.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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