LAWRENCE, Kan. — Wilted. Dried-up. Dead. That’s how plants look in a part of Lawrence, mistakenly sprayed by herbicide last week.
But this wasn’t just any plot of land. It’s an old-growth prairie located behind the Prairie Park Nature Center, home to rare plant species that could have issues rebounding, an environmental science professor from the University of Kansas said.
The 5-acre area looks more like a construction site this week after, last Thursday, city crews applied an herbicide designed to treat hay fields and kill broadleaf plants. The city says it happened in error.
“It’s now dying and hopefully there are seeds in there,” Lisa Lunsford, who lives across the street from the nature center, said.
“Very upset about that. Very sad,” she said.
Other visitors said that by this time of year the growth would be above their ankles. Instead the plants are brown and spotty. The wildlife is also difficult to see.
“There’s no butterflies to be found. And usually by this time this field is like butterfly city,” Lunsford said. “It’s pretty devastating. All the flowers that were blooming, that were healthy are now dying and they’re not pretty.”
Those feelings spilled into Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting.
“This is horrible for that neighborhood’s ecosystem and the state’s in general,” one speaker said during public comment.
“I am infuriated and heartbroken of the destruction and mismanagement of such a valuable resource,” said another.
During the meeting, Lawrence Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers apologized for the action.
“This was a departmental error and we will conduct a thorough review of what happened,” Rogers said.
“We will also do everything we can to the best we can to restore the plant species that were killed by the herbicides in last week’s spraying,” he said.
But the extent of damage may be difficult to resolve. One environmental science professor from KU told FOX4 that some breeds of plants located in the old growth prairie have not successfully been propagated or intentionally grown.
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“My biggest question is how can you spray a whole entire healthy prairie for invasive weeds instead of just spotting them like ‘Oh that’s a weed that shouldn’t be here. Let’s get that one,'” Lunsford said.
A group is planning, what they’re calling, a “Healing Event” at the prairie next Monday night at 7 p.m. They are demanding new safeguards as well as organized long-term restoration of this area.