May 2015

VM Views: Don't Miss Out On Partnership Opportunities

If you are a utility that sets out to make your annual applications without looking to build partnerships with the landowners and organizations you work with and around, you are missing an opportunity to build support for your program.

This support can prove important for the future of your integrated vegetation management (IVM) program. If you have a recognized IVM program, when issues arise regarding the use of herbicides, you have a great history and list of partners to help navigate potential crisis.

Whether you are an electric or gas transmission utility, pipeline utility or transportation corridor utility, it’s likely you conduct vegetation management operations in conjunction with many private and public property owners. Each owner has a management strategy that could be coordinated or enhanced with your application.

For example, noxious weeds present a no-brainer opportunity to help build partnerships with landowners. Taking time to talk with landowners and offering to control noxious weeds within rights-of-way demonstrate a utility’s commitment to the community and the environment.

Many utilities also have opportunities to improve habitat for threatened and endangered plant species, many of which are early successional plants that thrive in rights-of-way. Sometimes these species provide challenges to the use of herbicides. But by working with state and federal biologists, a comprehensive plan can be developed to meet the utility’s objectives while enhancing the habitat for these species.

Another example is working with organizations that support pollinators, such as the Pollinator Partnership, which is developing programs to work with utilities. Most utility rights-of-way offer the opportunity to manage vegetation while also improving pollinator habitat, such as adapting herbicide blends and using selective herbicide methods to protect and enhance vegetation that benefits pollinators. Take time to contact the Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org) for information on how you can create a more pollinator-friendly habitat on your rights-of-way.

Furthermore, plan and implement an IVM program that creates a sustainable vegetation mix that reduces herbicide application and mowing cycles. Many utilities know that low-growing grasses and herbaceous species in their rights-of-way help reduce the invasion of unwanted tree species and extend IVM cycles.

Once you have developed partner projects on your utility rights-of-way, remember to communicate these partnership programs to the public. Include these efforts on your website, have your media representative gain coverage by the local media, and reach out to the local Utility Arborist Association to host a regional field day that demonstrates your projects to local agencies.

Finally, look to the principles and criterion of the Right-of-Way Stewardship Council accreditation program, http://www.rowstewardship.org, for ideas on raising the bar for your utility vegetation program. Then, take the step toward accreditation with leaders in the industry.

There are opportunities for all utilities to form partnerships that enhance not only your public image but, at the same time, the habitat of your rights-of-way.