4 Benefits of Establishing Native Plant Communities and How to Do It

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Utility ROW tower in background

Promoting the development of compatible vegetation throughout utility rights-of-way can significantly impact the environment and your bottom line. 

Trees, brush and other incompatible plant species growing near utility infrastructure are the primary target of vegetation managers. However, there are countless ways to control this problematic vegetation, and certain strategies leave significant room for improvement. 

For example, mechanical mowing can effectively remove immediate threats to electrical transmission reliability, but what’s preventing those threats from growing back? When mechanized strategies are used exclusively, the answer is: nothing. 

As time goes on, vegetation solely treated with mowing strategies will reestablish, leading right-of-way (ROW) management crews back to the same sites they treated previously. Fortunately, there’s an approach to actively managing ROW corridors that can create a disadvantage for incompatible vegetation and make work significantly easier for vegetation managers. 

Instead of mowing repeatedly, industry practitioners can reduce long-term maintenance requirements by actively managing ROW corridors after mechanical control methods are complete. More specifically, following mowing treatments with selective herbicide applications featuring selective tank mixes is a highly effective approach to prolonging results achieved through mowing practices.  

“Selectivity is the key to successful Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) programs,” said Darrell Russell, Vegetation Management Specialist, Corteva Agriscience. “The selective application of selective chemistries complements mowing practices and delivers beneficial results that extend well beyond the edge of an ROW.” 

By selectively controlling incompatible trees and brush species, IVM strategies allow low-growing native plant communities to reestablish and thrive. In turn, the sustainable development of early successional plants can unlock the following benefits for utility vegetation management programs: 

  1. Formation of biological barriers 
    Extending and enhancing the control of incompatible vegetation supports the release of desirable plant species that provide a biological barrier against future woody plant establishment. With less ground cover to occupy, trees and incompatible brush species slowly disappear. Subsequently, as incompatible stem densities dwindle, other economic and environmental benefits emerge. 
  2. Reduced maintenance costs 
    In addition to harming desirable plant communities, mechanical mowing is expensive. From fuel costs and equipment needs to recurring skilled labor requirements, the cost of a mowing-based strategy can be a detriment to financially strapped programs. Conversely, IVM programs prevent problematic plants from reestablishing, resulting in fewer acres to maintain. This allows vegetation managers to significantly reduce maintenance costs and reallocate resources to priority sites or other programmatic needs. 
  3. Environmental sustainability improvements 
    Remember that fuel-guzzling mowing equipment? Its use releases harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which contributes to deforestation, species extinction, climate change and food crop shortages. Comparatively, many herbicide applications require no fuel whatsoever.  

    Other benefits of using selective herbicide applications as part of an IVM strategy to support the development of early successional plant communities includes the development of native grasses, beneficial forbs and shrubs that are predominantly compatible with native wildlife species.  

    “Unlike nonselective herbicide applications, you can create barriers against woody brush when using selective or grass-friendly brush mixes,” Russell said. “By leaving or developing areas for grasses and small forbs to flourish, you create habitat for small mammals, who in turn consume the woody brush seeds for biological control.”

    Years of results from the State Game Lands 33 research project, which Corteva has supported for decades, show that IVM strategies often offer the best results for establishing tree-resistant cover types and biodiverse habitat for various wildlife species, including bees, butterflies and other pollinator species. As an added benefit, utility companies can document habitat management improvements to support Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting.  
  4. Enhanced safety and service reliability 
    Reducing the number of trees on utility ROW effectively mitigates the risk of lapses in utility service caused by incompatible vegetation that interferes with utility infrastructure. Using an IVM-based approach to support the development of low-growing plant communities also enhances site accessibility for service crews, and supports the establishment of fuel breaks that provide areas from which first responders can combat wildfires safely and effectively.  

Put simply, IVM strategies allow utility companies and their vegetation management partners to positively impact the environment and surrounding communities as well as their public image and bottom line. With so much to gain — and so much more to lose — now’s the time to embrace IVM as an industry best practice.  

Ready to take the next step? Visit Utility.VegetationMgmt.com to learn more about products, solutions and application strategies that align with an IVM-based approach. 


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