Mid-Season Gut Check: Is Your IVM Program Working?

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Green grass and trees under powerlines - GA utility

You’ve just completed your first full year of an Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) program, and all eyes are on you and your department. How can you tell if your IVM program is working as it should? And, just as importantly, how can you answer that question from other stakeholders within your organization?

It Starts With Goals

To know if your vegetation management (VM) program is performing, you first have to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. And while maintaining access to and integrity of critical infrastructure is job number one of any VM program, the practices and products you use to achieve that objective will have a significant impact on how successful your efforts will be and how favorably they’ll be judged.

As an example – is your goal simply a number, like 95% control over woody brush species? You don’t need an IVM program for that; widespread applications of non-selective herbicides will get you there, but at what cost? You’re likely taking out native forbs and ground covers that could be helping you by crowding out woody brush or other undesirable species.

Or is that goal of 95% control combined with sustainability-related goals like restoration of pollinator habitat, reduction of carbon emissions, or reduced fossil fuel usage? Virtually every utility in operation has sustainability goals, whether they’re related to carbon emissions, fossil fuel usage, or habitat restoration. In each of these three cases, alignment with corporate sustainability goals is a valid and important measurement of the success of an IVM program.

Once your vegetation management goals are established and aligned with larger corporate goals, ask yourself what specifically you’re measuring and how? Are you counting bird or pollinator populations? Are you measuring the success of your IVM program by undesirable stem count only, or are you taking a more holistic view and looking at the levels of native ground covers growing within your ROWs? And whether you’re counting stems or pollinators, how are you counting? Are you rolling down the window and making a visual estimate, or are you putting boots on the ground and getting into the field?

Regardless of what metric you’re using, getting the most accurate measurement possible is critical to an objective, actionable assessment of both the effectiveness of your current program and whether any adjustments may be necessary.

Note The Time

And while the duration of your program isn’t a measurement of success in and of itself, it’s important to frame any conclusions with consideration of where you are on your IVM timeline. Areas that have only been under an IVM program for a season may have very little woody brush or other undesirable species – but what about year 2 or 3? Are the undesirable species starting to creep back in? Are there large patches of bare ground where you’d hoped for a lush carpet of native ground cover? If so, you may need to reconsider your choice of herbicide, application method, application timing, or all three.

When your IVM program is new, it’s easy to panic and rush into actions that may address the short-term problem while running counter to your longer-term goals. Having a clear idea of what you want your IVM program to do and how you’ll measure success will help you best determine the most appropriate course of action moving forward, regardless of the circumstance. To learn more about the role selective herbicides and application methods can play in your vegetation management program, visit VegetationMgmt.com. 


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