In the face of shrinking budgets, declining labor availability and heightened public scrutiny, the job of managing ROW vegetation can be tough and thankless. And yet as a highly visible part of your utility’s public presence, it’s critical that your vegetation management (VM) program performs well, regardless of these or other obstacles. One of the best ways to increase the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of your program? Adopt the proven principles of Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM).
An effective IVM program uses selective herbicide treatments in conjunction with mechanical controls like mowing to target incompatible vegetation. By doing so, you’re not only reducing your dependence on mechanized mowing; you’re setting the stage for significant long-term cost savings and increased overall effectiveness as compared with a mowing-only control program.
What’s in It for You
If your program relies exclusively on mowing, you’re missing out on the advantages of a well-planned, well-executed IVM program. Here’s why: while mowing does provide quick relief from advancing undesirable species, that relief comes at a price. First, mowing leaves the root systems of targeted stems intact, meaning it’s just a matter of time before those stems regrow. Second, mowing — or, more accurately, the mower itself — contributes significantly to the spread of undesirable seeds; so with every pass, you’re potentially increasing undesirable plant populations. Finally, mowing can prevent the establishment of native or beneficial ground cover that could otherwise play a role in inhibiting the growth of undesirable species. The inevitable result of a mowing-only program is that you’ll have to mow more, solidifying your reliance on the availability of a qualified labor force, as well as on a large fleet of equipment that has to be insured, stored, repaired, maintained and replaced.
But using selective herbicides as part of a well-planned IVM program can reduce dependence on mowing, while increasing the long-term cost-effectiveness of your overall vegetation management efforts. How?
- Use of selective herbicides allows desirable vegetation to develop and flourish, reducing your long-term maintenance needs and the associated costs, and helping reduce public complaints over “scalped” rights of way.
- An IVM program gives you the flexibility to use dormant-season applications instead of mowing to control stubborn vegetation. Dormant-season treatments extend the control window into the late-winter and early spring months, helping you make the most of year-end budget dollars while keeping crews busier throughout the year.
- By allowing the development of desirable vegetation, growth of taller plants and trees is inhibited, significantly reducing the risk of incompatible vegetation growing into powerlines and causing service interruptions.
How Cost-effective Is IVM?
Although studies comparing the cost-effectiveness of an IVM plan to strictly manual or mechanical vegetation management have been completed, variables such as geography, climate and local labor availability make it difficult to apply a single one-size-fits-all figure to the savings achieved through IVM.
That said, in The Cost-Efficiency of IVM, industry consultant John Goodfellow incorporates a range of stem density, treatment efficacy, and cycle timing variables to determine the cost-effectiveness of an IVM program compared with a mowing-only program. Using a three- to six-year cycle period and a 20-year present value cost prediction, for example, Goodfellow finds that IVM programs consistently offer a 25% to 57% cost savings over programs relying exclusively on mowing. Additionally, undesirable stem densities and average stem height were both significantly lower across all cycle periods, enabling longer treatment cycles and lowering maintenance costs for sites where vegetation has reached treatment thresholds.
A Better Way to Manage Vegetation
While adding selective herbicide treatments to an existing mowing-only program can mean a higher upfront investment, that initial expense can be more than offset by the lower long-term costs associated with an IVM program. Factor in the environmental and public perception benefits, and it’s clear that IVM is a more effective, more cost-efficient strategy for ROW vegetation control. Learn more about using herbicides in your Integrated Vegetation Management programs at Utility.VegetationMgmt.com.
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