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Right of way area alongside road, with power lines

Vegetation managers are constantly exploring new products and strategies to enhance control of incompatible plant populations in various application sites across the United States. For one service provider, the use of selective herbicides has proven to be the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to addressing client needs on rights-of-way throughout multiple states.

Utility rights-of-way represent some of the most prolific sites for invasive plant communities to develop. Like other application sites, the types of broadleaf weeds and brush species that negatively impact right-of-way (ROW) corridors will vary from one region to the next. Exclusively mowing to routinely reduce stem heights and densities within rights-of-way have been used in the past, but using applications of selective herbicides has been shown to improve results and cost-efficiencies for today’s practitioners.

As a company that strives to achieve optimum control of incompatible plant species across multiple states, ProtecTerra LLC has provided vegetation management services on a variety of unique application sites since 2012. Working along roadsides and numerous industrial sites over the years, the company’s services have focused primarily on establishing and maintaining sustainable programs within utility rights-of-way throughout Kentucky, Ohio and select locations in Indiana and West Virginia.

Within ROW corridors, invasive plant species can wreak havoc on natural habitats and threaten electrical transmission safety. In an effort to efficiently meet management goals while providing a better return on investment to its customers, ProtecTerra has worked to identify best practices for vegetation management over the years by testing a variety of field-tested products and strategies. As the company’s owner, Brent Bertram values chemical management methods over physical strategies like mowing or trimming on account of their increased efficacy.

“To exclusively use mowing or trimming will not get rid of your issue,” Bertram says. “Your issue is brush and vegetation growing up into the power lines. That’s what you want to get rid of.”

Whereas the exclusive use of mowing can streamline seed spreading or resprouting, which increases stem densities for incompatible plant populations, selective herbicides work to target incompatible plant processes to effectively control their growth and development. This keeps invasive and noxious species from spreading, which allows native plant communities to grow and helps to reduce maintenance costs for vegetation managers over time. For Bertram, who has worked in vegetation management since 2001 and currently carries a staff of 15 crew members, the environmental and economic impact of using selective herbicides is as valuable to his team’s work as the long-term protection it provides to transmission and distribution lines.

“With spraying herbicides, we try to reduce stem counts on the right-of-way,” Bertram says. “It’s also going to be more cost-effective over time. The ultimate goal is to control noxious vegetation in a safe manner while being cost-efficient for each of the customers we work for.”

Application Methods

Each year, ProtecTerra encounters a variety of incompatible plant species. The company relies on herbicide mixtures to help control some of the most common species, which include various hardwoods, conifers and other problematic species like bush honeysuckle.

“If the herbicides are mixed right and they’re applied correctly, you’re going to receive the results you want,” Bertram says. “I have a core group of trained men that do a good job with that.”

Whereas selective herbicides offer flexible application methods that can be changed over time to accommodate reduced maintenance needs, mowing is a nonselective method of control that consistently impacts all vegetation within each treatment area. This method also presents a variety of hazards, including flying debris, unstable maneuvering on sloped landscapes and the ultimate risk of rollovers. More often than not, Bertram prefers to reduce safety hazards by using smaller vehicles like tractors or RTV side-by-sides with mounted equipment to execute high-volume herbicide applications. His crew members commonly use backpack for low-volume applications as well.

“Mechanical mowing is done on an as-needed basis for our customers,” Bertram says. “It’s not what we like to do, because we know spraying is getting rid of their issues, but it is an option.”

It’s Not Just About the Utilities

Another benefit of applying selective herbicides is the improvements they help provide to natural habitat. ProtecTerra currently uses selective mixes such as Vastlan® and Milestone® herbicides from Corteva Agriscience to effectively control a variety of woody species. As selective herbicides target only incompatible plant processes, most beneficial forbs and grasses are tolerant of their use. This allows native plant communities to flourish in areas where incompatible plants had previously developed, which presents a natural barrier against potential reinvasions. When populations of desirable species increase, the surrounding area becomes all the more attractive to a variety of indigenous wildlife.

“In rights-of-way, vegetation control gets rid of brush and allows native grasses to grow back,” Bertram says. “This is beneficial for wildlife and allows more pollinators to come in.”

As pollinator populations have diminished over the past decade, vegetation management companies like ProtecTerra have worked to integrate solutions that can help increase populations for the native plants pollinators love the most. In recent years, environmental research studies have supported the use of selective herbicides in vegetation management programs as results have shown an increase in the density and diversity of various pollinator species.

Addressing Public Concerns

The vast majority of vegetation managers understand the benefits herbicides can provide to multiple application sites. However, the same cannot always be said for landowners in surrounding areas. As public perception wavers around the use of chemicals, herbicide applications may trigger uncertainty for wary members of the general public. Bertram has worked with his team to develop communication methods that ease the concerns of homeowners and enhance their understanding of the benefits herbicide applications can provide to their local environment.

“Talking about stem reduction is huge when discussing herbicides with customers,” Bertram says. “We train our technicians and crew members to be able to talk with homeowners and educate them on the products we’re using. Once you can talk them through it, a lot of times they come around to what you’re saying.”

Making the effort to educate landowners on the benefits herbicide applications provide can help vegetation managers address common misperceptions and increase awareness of the manner in which selective herbicides can enhance utility site safety and improve natural habitats. And for ProtecTerra, testing new products and management methods only helps to identify strategies and solutions that can strengthen those key talking points.

Trialing the Latest and Greatest

With the help of vegetation management specialists from Corteva Agriscience, vegetation managers are able to select the methods and products best suited to the vegetation and use sites they intend to treat. In an ongoing effort to explore new solutions, ProtecTerra began trialing TerraVue herbicide from Corteva Agriscience in April of this year. Proven to work harder than most other herbicides on the market, TerraVue offers effective control of over 140 broadleaf weeds and brush species. For ProtecTerra, the product is being used to control leguminous species, such as locusts and redbuds, in small trial plots at an application rate of only 2.85 ounces per acre. While it’s still early in the treatment process and ProtecTerra will need up to a year to see the full results, Bertram has been pleased with the performance of TerraVue and the prospect of introducing a new solution to his crew’s arsenal of vegetation management methods.

“I’m seeing brown-out on the vegetation we are trying to control,” Bertram says. “I’m excited about being able to put a new chemistry out there and see what it can do moving forward.”


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™ ® Trademarks of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer, and their affiliated companies or their respective owners. Milestone® 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. However, label precautions do apply to forage treated with Milestone and to manure from animals that have consumed treated forage within the last three days. Consult the label for full details. When treating areas in and around roadside or utility rights-of-way that are or will be grazed, hayed or planted to forage, important label precautions apply regarding harvesting hay from treated sites, using manure from animals grazing on treated areas or rotating the treated area to sensitive crops. See the product label for details. Milestone, 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. Always read and follow label directions.


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