Key Messages

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workers in rights of way


Key Messages

Key messages can be defined as simple statements of fact used to answer questions as directly and consistently as possible. In this section, we cover several common areas of concern around herbicides applications and vegetation management in general. It’s important to not simply memorize these key messages but to learn, understand and practice them.

Herbicide Safety

A question that vegetation managers or applicators often hear is “How do I know that what you’re doing is safe?” or “How will it affect me … my kids … my pets … the soil or even honeybees?” You should feel comfortable answering these questions and have other resources, such as product literature, with you to support your response. Here are some key messages to address this concern: 


  • The products we use are formulated to only control weeds and brush, and then break down after they’re applied.

  • Most herbicides we apply are broken down by microbes in the soil. Some as quickly as in a few hours.  

  • The majority of the liquid sprayed in most herbicide applications is water. Herbicides are usually diluted with water to facilitate better plant coverage. In most cases, the solution being sprayed is between 91% and 99% water. As a result, the actual herbicide sprayed is as little as a few ounces per acre. 

  • Herbicides are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and our state’s agency. 

  • In laboratory testing, most of today’s herbicides have been shown to be “practically nontoxic” to birds, fish, honeybees, earthworms and aquatic invertebrates. “Practically nontoxic” is the EPA’s least toxic category.

Additional Information and Training on Herbicide Testing and Safety

EPA requirements with testing and toxicity

All herbicides sold in the United States must be accepted for registration by the EPA based on a minimum of 120 scientific studies showing the pesticide will perform the intended function without “unreasonable adverse effects” on humans, animals (such as livestock) or the environment. The EPA defines “unreasonable adverse effects” as any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of the use of the herbicide. 


Any substance can be toxic, but the dose level, or amount, of that substance along with conditions of exposure is what makes the effect toxic or harmful to a living organism. Researchers determine the highest dose of a product that still shows no negative effect on animals and call this the No-Observable-Adverse-Effect-Level (NOAEL). Scientists also determine a maximum exposure level — exposure to the highest estimated concentration level that could be expected with normal use. Using these two measurements, they calculate a “safety factor.” This factor shows a multiple of the highest labeled application rate that an animal would have to be exposed to in order to reach NOAEL. 


If you are using herbicides containing aminopyralid and there is grazing cattle in areas of the rights-of-way, the following label precaution applies: When treating areas in and around roadside or utility rights-of-way that are or will be grazed 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.

Herbicide Application

Some people may be concerned about herbicide applications and ask how the herbicide will impact their trees, shrubs, water sources or garden. They may also question how soon they can enter an area that has been treated with herbicides. Here are some easy ways to address these concerns:

We Use:

  • Only trained, licensed and experienced application crews to apply these products.
  • Selective herbicides; and we only target the brush and weeds we need to control.

  • Very low rates of herbicide, so there is very little chance it could contaminate groundwater.

Our Applicators:

  • Are trained to avoid spraying in or near water sources they encounter, usually only treating to a specified buffer zone to avoid any potential runoff into bodies of water.

We Recommend:

  • Staying out of treated areas at least until the herbicide dries. If an area is designated off limits for longer periods of time, we will post appropriate signage with clear instructions.

  • Following proper precautions on the herbicide label — particularly when aminopyralid was used in the application and you plan to use manure or hay harvested from the treated areas as compost or allow cattle to graze it.

man using water hose

Herbicide vs. Mechanical

Another question that often surfaces is "Why don't you just use a chain saw, mow it or trim it?" Here are some messages that will address these type of questions:


- We use mechanical control when it's appropriate.

- By using herbicides, we're able to attain better, longer-lasting control of problem vegetation, with fewer injuries to workers.


Benefits of Vegetation Management

These key messages help promote treatment benefits.

  • Vegetation management is critical in preventing power service interruptions and helping utility crews access power lines.
  • Failure to control vegetation along roads can result in consequences, such as accidents.
  • Left unchecked near railroads, weeds and brush can reduce train traction and hide hazards. At crossings, dense foliage limits a motorist’s line of sight.

Using selective herbicides opens the door to communicating additional benefits:

Selective vegetation management allows for less herbicides to be used.

Preserving grasses, forbs and other low-growing herbaceous species, especially on rights-of-way, serves as an effective natural defense against incompatible trees and woody brush. Ultimately, vegetation managers will need to use less herbicide over time for maintenance while increasing soil stabilization. 

Selective vegetation management is supported by industry standards.

The practice of selective vegetation management using herbicides has been adopted as an industry standard and best management practice by leading utility industry associations, such as the Tree Care Industry Association and the International Society of Arborists.  

Selective vegetation management improves habitat and biodiversity.

More than 60 years of industry research as part of the Pennsylvania State Game Lands 33 and Greenlane Research & Development projects have proven that using selective VM greatly improves ROW habitat and biodiversity. The increased presence of native forbs and shrubs makes land very attractive to critical pollinator species and other important wildlife. 

Maintaining as much compatible vegetation as possible after an appropriate herbicide application can positively influence public opinions and sentiment. Demonstrating a high level of selectivity in the removal of incompatible vegetation can result in fewer complaints from landowners and the public. 



Recommended word choices
Avoid: Replace with: 
Pesticide Product/mixture
Poison or brush killer Selective treatment
Spray right-of-way Targeting application
Spray trees Treat invasive brush

Key Messages

Related Videos

Additional Resources to Review

Notify Your Neighbor Pocket Resource Card

Outlines the INFORM and ABC methods of communication and the key messages that applicators can use when interacting with landowners and the general public.

bee in flowers

Next Up: Habitat Benefits

Learn more about how to communicate the benefits proper vegetation management practices can have on native habitat and wildlife populations. 

Go to Habitat Benefits

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