Ask the Expert: Wildfire Mitigation

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Four vegetation management experts discuss the support Integrated Vegetation Management strategies provide to utility companies and wildfire mitigation programs.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, an average of 62,799 wildfires have burned more than 7.5 million acres in the United States each year since 2011. The impact of these wildfires is far-reaching, as they affect a variety of businesses, public buildings, communities and ecosystems along the way.

Utility rights-of-way weave throughout the country for hundreds of thousands of miles, and these expansive landscapes can help safeguard land, buildings and communities from spreading flames. Selective herbicide applications can be used by vegetation managers as part of an Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) strategy to enhance not only electrical transmission reliability but also wildfire mitigation efforts. We connected with four industry experts to further detail the benefits IVM provides:

  • Ed Frederickson, President of Thunder Road Resources, serves as an active member and researcher with the Sierra Cascade Intensive Forestry Management Research Cooperative. Frederickson also is a contributing author of the new California Reforestation Manual. He is a licensed applicator and consultant in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
  • Beau Miller, Vegetation Management Specialist with Corteva Agriscience, leverages nearly 30 years of experience to help utility vegetation managers enhance wildfire mitigation and electrical transmission reliability throughout the western United States.
  • Will Hatler, Field Scientist with Corteva Agriscience, is responsible for research and product development as well as technical and sales support for the organization’s Pasture and Land Management businesses.
  • Jerome Otto, Market Development Specialist with Corteva Agriscience, supports territory managers and serves as the interface between commercial sales and R&D units. 

Together, these experts detail the impact of IVM practices that can effectively control incompatible plant species to not only reduce wildfire ignitions, but also eliminate potential fuel sources that support their spread.

How would you describe IVM?

Beau Miller (BM): IVM is a multifaceted process that incorporates the complementary benefits of mechanical, chemical and biological control methods to improve site quality over time. 

Jerome Otto (JO): IVM refers to the practice of using all available tools to achieve a well-balanced land management goal. This often involves two or more objectives that must be achieved simultaneously for optimal results. In addition to mechanical, chemical and biological control methods, chemical, manual and cultural strategies can play impactful roles as well. 

What benefits can IVM with herbicides provide compared with programs that rely exclusively on mowing practices?

JO: Studies have shown that mowing is much more expensive on a per-acre or per-mile basis when compared with IVM practices. Mowing is often very hard on wildlife habitat as well. 

Will Hatler (WH): Incorporating herbicides as part of an IVM-based approach can help vegetation managers extend the treatment life of mechanical control methods. This strategy can support industry programs in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable manner. 

When it comes to wildfire mitigation, what goals do vegetation managers work to achieve, and how can IVM practices provide support?

Ed Frederickson (EF): The main goal is to develop and maintain a defensible fuels profile. While the objective to maintain low levels of vegetation is relatively easy to accomplish with herbicides and either mechanical or manual clearing of dead fuels, the hardest part is convincing landowners to maintain those fuel-reduction treatments over time.

WH: Vegetation managers should be working to manage vegetation that contributes to the fuel load potential. IVM strategies provide the flexibility needed for practitioners to ensure the most appropriate methodology is used from one site to the next.          

Aside from wildfire mitigation support, what benefits do IVM practices provide to vegetation managers?

EF: An integrated program often is more acceptable to the public, but it is also necessary since one aspect of IVM can’t accomplish every objective of the program. For instance, you can spray the brush, but in many cases, you also need to remove the skeletons for fuel reduction, aesthetics, light, etc. That requires manual or mechanical methods.

WH: IVM is a holistic approach to vegetation manipulation that can be applied to other objectives, including noxious and invasive weed control as well as wildlife habitat management.

BM: While IVM practices can be used to manage ladder fuels along shaded fuel breaks, they also improve grass release on slopes, which can improve filtration and reduce segment loss. We encourage practitioners to plan out their site entries over a 12- to 48-month timeline. Planning for these activities is important, but the flexibility of IVM allows vegetation managers to make changes on the fly for improved results as time goes on.

JO: IVM practices help vegetation managers achieve their goals through a holistic approach that helps balance the needs of key stakeholders. Put simply, what you remove from an application site is as important as what you leave behind. IVM enhances both aspects for a variety of economic and environmental benefits.

What is the purpose of fuel breaks and shaded fuel breaks, and how can practitioners establish them successfully?

EF: Fuel breaks provide an opportunity to defend against wildfire. To establish fuel breaks successfully, vegetation managers should ensure they’re large enough — 300 feet wide at a minimum — and remove enough vegetation and timber to break up the contiguity of the fuel’s profile. These sites can be maintained for the long-term with herbicides and other necessary treatments. 

JO: Fuel breaks refer to areas that are cleared of all trees and brush. These areas allow firefighters to move equipment throughout a forest to impede the spread of advancing fires. They also provide critical evacuation routes if ever wildfires cause roads to close.

Which products or application strategies are most impactful for wildfire mitigation programs?

EF: The most effective application strategy for wildfire mitigation is to have a series of well-laid-out fuel breaks that are placed in areas of maximum defense. The most effective management strategies incorporate biomass operations where the material is totally removed from the site in combination with herbicide applications to maintain low vegetation cover. 

JO: Selective herbicides, such as Garlon® 4 Ultra, Vastlan® and TerraVue® herbicides from Corteva Agriscience, can be used to support grass-friendly applications that are structured to enhance thinning, ladder fuel management and the establishment of fuel breaks or shaded fuel breaks. 

At what point in the year should vegetation managers plan to execute those strategies?

EF: It is almost always better to treat brush prior to any mechanical or manual removal method. Land managers need to allow enough time after application for the herbicide to work before removing the vegetation. Usually, a couple months after treatment is adequate.

WH: The optimum timing of IVM applications depends on several factors, including the types of plants you’re targeting and the control methods you plan to use. Other considerations, such as climate or weather patterns, play a role as well. The overarching objective is to implement your selected strategies prior to peak wildfire season, if possible.

JO: Foliar applications can begin once trees and brush have fully leafed out in the spring. Other application methods, such as basal bark or dormant-stem treatments, can provide ample support in the fall and winter months, when trees and brush are dormant. Ultimately, these strategies help ensure year-round vegetation control. 

What would you say to someone who is concerned about the environmental impact of herbicide treatments?

WH: Herbicide technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, and very low amounts of active ingredient can now be applied precisely to targeted areas. Using herbicides in accordance with each product label provides a solution that is more efficacious and environmentally sustainable than many mechanical control methods.

BM: I always encourage vegetation managers to believe in the science and to look at the long-term benefits. These considerations can bring the bigger picture into focus. When used properly, herbicide applications can help us improve the land with multiple benefits, including wildfire mitigation and biodiverse habitat development.

At the end of the day, most wildfire mitigation programs share the same objectives. Multiple strategies can be used to achieve these goals, but few are as economically and environmentally responsible as an IVM-based approach. To learn more about IVM and the sustainable results associated practices can provide to wildfire mitigation programs, visit the wildfire vegetation management page.

For help confirming the best application methods or herbicide products for the land you manage, contact a vegetation management specialist in your local area. 


™ ® Trademarks of Corteva Agriscience and its affiliated companies. State restrictions on the sale and use of Garlon® 4 Ultra apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details. Under normal field conditions, TerraVue® is nonvolatile. TerraVue has no grazing or haying restrictions for any class of livestock, including lactating dairy cows, horses (including lactating mares) and meat animals prior to slaughter. Label precautions apply to forage treated with TerraVue and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage. TerraVue and Vastlan are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Consult the label for full details. Always read and follow label directions. © 2022 Corteva.

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