Dsc05449 60d34aea7e775

3 Challenges Utility Vegetation Managers Face and How to Fix Them

July 6, 2021
Learn how common issues with utility vegetation management programs can be resolved to benefit the environment, utility customers and, ultimately, your bottom line.

With millions of miles of high-voltage and low-voltage power lines weaving throughout the United States, vegetation management is a key strategy used by utility companies working to ensure electrical transmission reliability, improve right-of-way (ROW) accessibility and mitigate the risk of wildfires caused by utility infrastructure. However, today’s professionals encounter several challenges as they attempt to effectively control incompatible plant species throughout ROW corridors.  

Sustainable solutions can be used to effectively address these issues each year, providing cost savings as well as benefits to the environment and nearby communities along the way. Here are three common problems industry professionals face in the field and what can be done to get utility vegetation management programs back on track: 

1) Reestablishment of targeted plant species 

Utility vegetation management teams have relied on mechanical mowing practices in the past to control vegetation posing a threat to interfere with utility infrastructure. While this strategy may provide temporary control of problematic trees and brush species throughout utility ROW, it also decimates native plant communities, supports the spread of viable seeds and stimulates the regrowth of unwanted plant species. As a result, many programs face increasing maintenance costs from one cycle to the next.   

Utility vegetation managers can enhance mowing results by incorporating selective herbicide applications and the use of selective herbicides as part of an integrated vegetation management (IVM) program. Combining selective application with selective herbicides effectively controls targeted plants and minimizes collateral damage to compatible vegetation compared with the use of nonselective herbicides. This supports the development of native plants that provide a natural barrier against the reestablishment of incompatible trees and brush species that threaten electrical transmission reliability.  

With lower populations of incompatible stems to control, vegetation managers are able to increase both productivity and cost savings 

2) Limited Resources 

Vegetation management teams are often tasked with maintaining hundreds — if not thousands — of miles of utility rights-of-way each year. As a result, many professionals struggle to keep up with maintenance demands because of budget restrictions and/or a shortage of skilled workers. Any brush left untreated from one year to the next can grow exponentially, impede visibility for examiners conducting aerial inspections and render ROW corridors inaccessible. This only emphasizes the importance of a program’s efficacy and cost-efficiency. 

Industry research studies have shown that mowing alone can result in maintenance costs that nearly triple costs associated with an IVM-based strategy. Whereas the exclusive use of mowing practices can lead to higher stem counts and increased maintenance requirements over time, selective herbicide applications provide a sustainable solution that reduces stem counts effectively, thereby reducing long-term maintenance requirements (and costs) over time. In addition to keeping ROW corridors clear for infrastructure and right-of-way maintenance, these results allow vegetation managers to work safely and efficiently with the dollars they’re given.  

3) Growing Season Limitations 

From weather complications to labor insufficiencies, vegetation management professionals encounter a variety of roadblocks that can unexpectedly inhibit their ability to effectively treat their managed lands during the growing season. When acres of utility rights-of-way are left untreated, incompatible brush species can develop — fast. In fact, brush can grow between 20% and 40% from one year to the next, making program flexibility exceedingly crucial for practitioners. 

Professionals looking to optimize control of incompatible vegetation beyond the growing season should consider the benefits of dormant-season treatments, such as low-volume basal bark, basal cut-stump and dormant-stem treatments, as they provide viable and economical solutions for vegetation managers working to catch up or get ahead of each growing season. These dormant-season treatments provide multiple benefits to utility vegetation managers, including: 

  • Extended treatment windows 
  • Limited brown-out 
  • Reduced future labor requirements and maintenance costs 

Embracing Industry Best Practices 

Maintaining incompatible vegetation throughout utility rights-of-way requires acute awareness and the use of timely management solutions. With the right strategies at your disposal, no challenge is insurmountable. Learn more about utility vegetation management, effective application methods and cutting-edge products leading the industry at VegetationMgmt.com. 

Sponsored by:

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!