DNR’s nongame wildlife program urges wildlife-friendly erosion control

(Released May 5, 2014)

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ nongame wildlife program urges local governments and private construction companies to use wildlife-friendly erosion control materials. Erosion-control materials are frequently used along roadways and recreational trails, and during new building construction.

Plains Gartersnake trapped and killed by welded-plastic square erosion-control mesh placed along a newly installed cement culvert in southern Minnesota.

Plains Gartersnake trapped and killed by welded-plastic square erosion-control mesh placed along a newly installed cement culvert in southern Minnesota.

Wildlife entanglement in, and death from, plastic netting and other man-made plastic materials has been documented in birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles. Unfortunately, the use of these materials for erosion control continues, often without consideration for wildlife impacts. This plastic netting can not only hurt terrestrial and aquatic wildlife populations, but can also snag in maintenance machinery, resulting in costly repairs and delays. The good news is that erosion-control materials that are wildlife friendly exist and are readily available through many large companies (including Minnesota-based companies).

“We are not just worried about entangling wildlife in the immediate construction area,” said Christopher Smith, DNR central region nongame wildlife biologist. “Plastic erosion-control mesh is often shredded when mowed over during ditch and trail maintenance, and these small fragments are then blown by wind into nearby natural areas, including ponds, lakes, and rivers. Because the mesh is plastic it remains a hazard for months or even years, long after we have stopped thinking about the impact of a particular construction project on wildlife.”

Relatively simple changes like using 100 percent biodegradable products (not plastic or polymer photodegradable products) that have flexible nonfixed/nonwelded mesh, and/or rectangular-shaped mesh, make the material less likely to entangle wildlife. People should use erosion mesh wisely; not all areas with disturbed ground necessitate its use. Where possible, avoid using plastic photodegradable mesh unless it’s specifically required. Photodegradable products need sunlight to degrade, and are often quickly buried or shaded out by vegetation, resulting in the product remaining on the land for years. Erosion-control options that use natural fibers or straw are preferable.

To learn more about wildlife-friendly erosion control, check out the DNR’s nongame wildlife program’s flyer.