Biodiversity: What It Is and Why You Want It

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Wildflowers under power lines

Defining biodiversity is easy enough: it’s the variety of plants, animals and insects living within a particular area or ecosystem. Still, the term “biodiversity” is commonly mis-used and often misunderstood within vegetation management.

Broadly speaking, the industry uses ‘biodiversity’ to refer to the animal and insect life – not necessarily the plant life – existing within an ROW or roadside management zone. “Managing for biodiversity,” therefore, implies management of vegetation to promote a diversity of native or migratory birds, animals and insects.

And while the goal of any VM program is to protect critical energy or transportation infrastructure, there’s a great deal of room within those very broad boundaries for vegetation managers and their employers to create, maintain or restore habitat critical to native animal and insect species. By doing so, utilities, DOTs and other agencies and institutions not only establish or reaffirm their environmental credibility, further their own corporate sustainability goals and potentially boost ESG scores. They also promote the growth of desirable vegetation that helps inhibit the development of undesirable shrubs and woody brush and ultimately reduce long-term vegetation management expenses.

The Way Forward

But the key to doing so is in the planning and the details. For vegetation managers keen to manage their sites with an eye towards building or re-building animal and insect populations, a handful of common-sense guidelines will help make sure the plan starts and stays on track.

Define your objectives. Is the goal to increase desirable species populations or reduce undesirable populations? Are you developing native habitat from bare ground, protecting habitat that may be threatened by invasive plant species, or enhancing habitat that already exists? Establishing clear goals is key to developing any sustainable, long-term VM plan, especially those focused on increasing biodiversity.

Define what’s possible. In other words, can you do what you want to do, where you want to do it? Consider the climate zone, as well as the topography, the drainage and soil type of the site you’re working with.

Establish your starting point. To get where you’re going, you need to have a solid idea of where you are; make sure you know the populations of compatible and incompatible plant species at the site under consideration.

Establish treatment thresholds and methods. Just like your overall program objectives, your treatment thresholds can be based on either desirable or undesirable plant populations. At what point will you take action (when the undesirable stem count reaches X, for example), and what will that action be – treatment with selective herbicides, hand-cutting, mowing? And remember that doing nothing can be the most appropriate action, especially at sites that already have established desirable plant populations, or that have been recently disturbed by disking.

Report on successes and opportunities for improvement. In times of budget pressure and increased public scrutiny, a vegetation manager can’t have too many partners within an organization. Make sure you’re communicating regularly on successes, as well as on areas and efforts that could be improved and how you plan to move forward.

Managing rights-of-way and roadside vegetation zones for biodiversity is a valuable step toward establishing and protecting the environmental credibility of your agency or utility, and can pay off in improved public perception and higher ESG scores. To learn more about the role selective herbicides and application methods can play in your vegetation management program, visit 


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