Asheville Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America





January 2007 Asheville Field Office press releases, story ideas, and media advisories

January 16, 2006
NCDOT Strives to Protect Endangered Plant

Denise Moldenhauer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 828/258-3939, ext. 226;
Joel Setzer, North Carolina Department of Transportation, 828/586-2141;
Gary Peeples, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 828/258-3939, ext. 234;

Approximately 846 white irisettes, a federally-protected plant first listed as endangered in 1991, are found at the site of a proposed road paving on Skyuka Road in Polk County, prompting the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to take several steps toward conserving them.

Of the 846 plants on the site, 230 are expected to be directly impacted by the project, which led NCDOT to consult the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) on how to protect the plants.

“We’re really excited about the environmental commitment NCDOT is showing,” said Denise Moldenhauer, the Service’s biologist who reviewed the project. “They’re really going above and beyond to help protect one of our rarest and most imperiled plants, and I think the end result is good for both the road and the plant.”

Part of NCDOT’s efforts to protect the plant focused on the design of the project. NCDOT reduced the road width by five to seven feet to avoid plants along the road. Where feasible, they also modified the road alignment not only to avoid some of the white irisettes, but also to avoid power and phone poles, reducing environmental impacts by the phone and power companies when replacing the poles. They also reduced the planned shoulder width to avoid 30 large trees that provide shade to the irisettes, which need dappled sunlight for best growth.

Some of the 230 white irisettes in the construction path will be moved to a nearby site where the transportation agency has secured a conservation easement, protecting it from development in perpetuity; others will be moved up the road bank and out of the construction area. NCDOT has also pledged $190,000 to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Plant Conservation Program to manage a nearby tract of land that’s home to the rare plant.

NCDOT is also taking steps to control invasive plants at the site. These typically exotic species have the ability to overwhelm native vegetation and dominate a site. The site is home to eight species of invasive plants, including kudzu, Japanese stiltgrass, and princess or royal paulownia tree. Most invasive plants, including those on this site, are able to take quick advantage of soil disturbances to spread into new areas, posing a threat to the white irisettes at the site. NCDOT is taking several steps to address the threat of the invasive species, including:

  • Scheduling the construction over a two-year period so as little ground as possible is disturbed at a given time;
  • Working downhill where feasible. Since seeds wash downhill, working from top to bottom will help prevent the seeds of invasive plants from washing onto recently cleared ground;
  • Carrying off site and destroying invasive species material unearthed during the project, such as large kudzu roots;
  • Using native and other non-invasive plants to form the basis of the plantings used to control erosion during and after construction;
  • Implementing  an invasive species control plan on the site during construction and for three years after the end of construction; and

NCDOT also agreed to monitor the 616 plants at the site that won’t be directly impacted by the project at three and five years after project completion to evaluate the effectiveness of their measures.






Media contact:

Gary Peeples
office - 828/258-3939, ext 234
cell - 828/216-4970
fax - 828/258-5330
160 Zillicoa St.
Asheville, NC 28801

If you can't reach Gary Peeples, please contact:

Janet Mizzi
office - 828/258-3939, ext. 223
cell - 828/215-1741
fax - 828/258-5330
160 Zillicoa St.
Asheville, NC 28801

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Last Updated: May 15, 2008