Brush Control in Public Rights of Way

Effective brush control requires applying the right herbicide at the right time.

Strategic herbicide selection and application timing support effective brush management plans that meet the needs of utilities, landowners, public users and natural habitats. More stringent brush control regulations for utility rights of way present land management challenges.

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Staying Ahead of Both Brush and Public Concerns in Rights of Way

As past power outages have proven, a single overgrown tree can be a mighty foe for a utility company. Rigorous federal brush control regulations, backed by huge fines, make integrated vegetation management plans essential in today’s high-stakes need for compliance.

The biggest changes coming out of the 2003 power outages are the fines that could be levied against utilities that fail to control vegetation in rights of way, says Rick Johnstone, president, IVM Partners, Inc.

“In the past, trees were left to grow in many rights of way. But now, due to the potential for fines, utilities are clearing them back to the original easement boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s that type of wholesale cutting of vegetation that can upset the public.”

That means utilities not only have to stay ahead of fast-growing vegetative threats, but also avoid causing public concerns about brush-control strategies in visible rights of way. Johnstone advises utility companies on developing integrated vegetation management programs that meet safety and reliability requirements, while taking into account the needs of other stakeholders, including government agencies, conservation groups, nearby landowners and the public.

“Whether utilities are working with agencies or property owners, the first thing I recommend is that the utility company find out what the third-party concerns are,” he says. “Learn what others expect from the area, then communicate to them what the utility’s obligations are, for vegetation management. Two-way communication can alleviate common complaints, so they don’t become larger problems down the road.”

Utilities can meet those third-party concerns without sacrificing their own objectives, Johnstone says. “The outcomes can often be achieved together—the utility meets its safety and reliability needs, and the public or government agency satisfies its concerns about aesthetics and/or wildlife habitat.”

Johnstone cites a recent project where he worked with a utility company to be proactive in its rights of way management in a suburban community outside Washington, D.C. “I helped the company write a vegetation management plan with multiple herbicide applications that allowed us to bring back native prairie, control invasive species, and create a healthy ecosystem in the wetland areas and a stream crossing. Then we put up signs at the hiking trails crisscrossing the nature park areas along the rights of way to explain what was being done. It was an easy way to help educate people who use the site.”

Aesthetics are a primary public concern, he says. “So when you know you’ll have many people passing by, it’s best not to choose a control method that will stand out and attract negative attention. You have to be strategic. Maybe mow first, then apply a herbicide to prevent plants from resprouting.”

Some management plans might need to stretch out over several years, he notes. “But once a right of way is in a managed state, you reduce costs for equipment, labor and herbicides because you only have to touch it up throughout the year.”

10 Ways to Make a Better Brush Control Plan

As an environmental consultant and advisor, Rick Johnstone works with utilities, government agencies, conservation groups and the public to develop effective brush-control programs for long-term management. He offers these 10 steps to develop and implement a successful brush-management plan.

1. Walk the rights of way, mapping features that will need special accommodations, such as waterways, forests, native species and wildlife habitats.
2. Consult stakeholders and learn their concerns and needs for vegetation management in the area.
3. Determine which plant and brush species should be controlled and which you want to foster.
4. Consider aesthetics, knowing where and when parts of the right of way will be most visible, then time control measures appropriately. For example, don’t apply a broad-spectrum herbicide along an interstate highway two weeks before a major traveling holiday.    
5. Use a multistep control program in areas where achieving ultimate control may be too severe a change if done all at once.
6. Set realistic thresholds, based on the specific area. Stating that no plant will be allowed to grow taller than 6 feet, for instance, might be too restrictive and impractical.
7. Follow up each year. After major tree or brush applications or removals, herbicide spot applications may be necessary the following season to control regrowth from roots and cut stubble.
8. Use a variety of control techniques, including herbicide applications, mowing and hand-trimming. The best integrated vegetation management plan contains multiple control methods.
9. Consider herbicide application options, such as broadcasting versus spot spraying.
10. Match herbicides to the species you need to control, and look for those products that will release desirable native species.

Boxelder: Fast-Growing Threat

Mesquite
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Boxelder: Fast-Growing Threat

Boxelder
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Mesquite: Southwestern Menace

Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) is one of the toughest, most invasive brush species in the southwestern United States. Controlling mesquite requires vigilance due to the plant’s hardiness and easy seed distribution by wildlife to non-crop acres.

When controlling mesquite with broadcast herbicide applications, apply near the top of the plant so the herbicide reaches the crown and moves down into the canopy. Spot applications made with backpack sprayers are a low-volume option for smaller infestations. With either method, use a sufficient spray volume to thoroughly and uniformly cover mesquite foliage and stems.

This type of control should be timed before or during periods of active root growth, such as spring or summer, when mesquite leaves change color from light green to uniform dark green. A product such as DuPont™ Streamline® herbicide may be applied as a foliar spray to control this troublesome pest.  Not only does Streamline® provide control of hard-to-manage species like mesquite, it is also selective to many grass species that are desirable in non-crop areas, such as utility and roadside rights of way.

Boxelder: Fast-Growing Threat

Boxelder (Acer negundo) is a rapid-growing species that can adapt to a wide range of soil types and moisture conditions. Other characteristics include a fibrous root system, prolific seed production and seedling growth. Boxelders bloom between March and May, depending on region, and produce characteristic “winged” seeds throughout summer and early fall that are easily distributed by wind.

Seedlings and small plants can be controlled with timely herbicide application. Larger plants are usually resistant to girdling and, after mowing, will send up multiple shoots. It is best to follow up mechanical control with herbicide treatments on new growth.

DuPont™ Viewpoint® and Streamline® herbicides provide effective control of boxelder and other difficult-to-control species. See Viewpoint® and Streamline® in action by viewing Creating Safer Sites With Reliable Brush Control

New Herbicides Simplify Brush Control in Utility Rights of Way

DuPont™ Viewpoint® and Streamline® herbicides were developed to provide more effective broad-spectrum control of tough brush species. Based on the proprietary active ingredient, aminocyclopyrachlor, both herbicides control a variety of difficult brush species, including mesquite and boxelder.

Viewpoint® delivers the broadest spectrum of brush control on the market, reducing the need for multiple tank-mix partners.

It is not a federally restricted-use product and has a low use rate measured in ounces, not pounds, to make storage, handling, measuring, mixing and cleanup easier. Reducing the number of products in the tank also means there’s less chance for mixing errors.

Similar to Viewpoint®, Streamline® is not a federally restricted-use product and has a low use rate that not only controls hard-to-manage species such as mesquite, box elder and hackberry, but is selective to many desirable grasses in utility and roadside rights of way.

The information provided on this website is for reference only. Always refer to the product labels for complete details and directions for use.