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Research & Demonstration Plots Barry Eastwood/iStock/Thinkstock

Research & Demonstration Plots

It is extremely difficult to gain public and environmental acceptance for the introduction of herbicides to a program.

Yes but that’s not here

Are herbicides an integral part of your vegetation management program? If so, don’t ever lose that option. It is extremely difficult to gain public and environmental acceptance for the introduction of herbicides to a program. When you are not using herbicides you are faced with using data and information from other geographic areas because you have nothing to show. From a scientific perspective using other peoples’ data is not a problem but a public, whose perception regarding pesticide use has been tainted by attention grabbing headlines, doesn’t see it that way. They want specific, local information.

If herbicides are a part of your vegetation management program do not become complacent and assume the public understands their significant environmental and economic benefits. To that end you need both demonstration and research plots. Conveniently located plots may serve both purposes.

Flower power

Since my university days, I’ve had a focus on research but the utility of demonstration plots became clear to me during my utility forester term at TransAlta. We had an Operations Manager that was very concerned about the safety of herbicides and the public perception regarding their use. While his concern was somewhat misplaced given that much of the service territory was agricultural and we were more often pilloried at public meetings for the sites we didn’t treat than the sites we did, none the less his concern was genuine. Our Forestry group had arranged to take a group from Alberta Environment to see our research plots and it eventuated that this manager was convinced to come along.

While I was explaining and showing the 3-year aftermath of various herbicide treatments, he was busy taking pictures of all the wildflowers. It was an eye opening experience for the manager and for us in the Forestry group. We realized we had become so accustomed to the effects of herbicides that we missed the possibility that seeing it for the first time could totally shatter the “burnt earth” expectation. We organized another trip for a couple of VPs, directors and Public Affairs staff. Same result. They couldn’t believe these areas had been treated with herbicide. We were able to show them through the untreated control plots dominated by incompatible tree saplings that this biodiversity, which they saw as beautiful, was in fact created by herbicide use. We had a few more bus tours for TransAlta staff and county councillors and of course we took pictures that could be used in convention displays.

What is your end-game

If you set up demonstration plots organize it so that only a small portion has been recently treated and that there are areas that are two years and more after treatment. The intent is not to show how effectively herbicides kill trees but rather what the long goal is – the compatible plant community that is produced.

If demonstration plots are so effective why do you need to do research? You can’t get everybody who button holes you with their herbicide question and concern out to see them. Sometimes you need to answer questions as they arise.

You should love this question

So, let me put a question to you that you’ve probably heard from a ratepayer, landowner, internal executive, environmental group, regulator and/or an interviewer: Why does your utility use herbicides?

Let’s see you dig yourself out of this one

Here was my stock answer: Because they are best environmental option available to us and secondly they place the smallest cost burden on our ratepayers. While this is a true statement you can see where many a listener would be thinking ‘let’s see you dig yourself out of the hole you just placed for yourself in’. Now you have their attention while they gleefully wait for you to shoot yourself in the foot or pull off an incredible explanation. This is where the facts to back-up the statement are necessary. The facts need to start local and then expand more globally and they need to be delivered rat-tat-tat, environment first and then economics. Where are you going to get local data? By doing or contracting research on your own system. You need facts like the impact on biodiversity, species dominance, rare species, wildlife feed and use potential, impact on pollinators, etc. In addition to the impact of herbicide use you also need to know the impacts of alternate maintenance practices. If your system is not in Pennsylvania then the work done there should not be primary in your presentation of facts but brought in later to corroborate that using herbicides to produce a meadow community or to hold the area in an early successional stage, tends to increase biodiversity.

If you are not getting that data now, you will have no chance should the option of using herbicides be taken from you.

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