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Rights-of-Way Vegetation Management (IVM)

Last modified: 2/27/2012 2:25 PM

Rights-of-way (ROW) are the areas involved in common transport. They are essential for the proper functioning of a modern society and include:

  • Federal, state, county, and township highways and roads;
  • Public airports;
  • Railroads;
  • Electric utilities (including substations, switching stations, transmission lines, and distribution lines);
  • Pipelines (including pumping stations);
  • Public surface drainage ways;
  • Public irrigation waterways;
  • Banks of public barge ways and areas around locks and dams; and
  • Bicycle, bridle and other public paths or trails (outside established recreational areas).

Reliability and public safety are of major concern across all rights-of-way with one specific issue of concern is the control of selected types of vegetation. Vegetation Management on rights-of-way is desirable and necessary for a variety of reasons such as necessary to maintain a safe & clear sight distances, to clear signs and fixtures of vegetation for visibility and functionality, to provide adequate drainage in roadway ditches, to reduce fire hazard and provide snow or dust drift control. It is also necessary to protect the roadway surface from vegetation encroachment and to maintain drainage. Rights-of-way must also allow maintenance workers to perform their function without creating hazards to those that use and depend on the ROW. Managers of rights-of-way share common objectives, including user and worker safety, reduced fire hazard, and an assured ability to perform inspections.

Most ROW managers are also confronted with "noxious weeds." The Federal and State Executive orders require the Department to take steps to prevent the spread of invasive or noxious plants. Federal Executive Order 13112, signed by President Clinton on February 3, 1999 requires "authorities to (i) prevent the introduction of invasive species; (ii) detect and respond rapidly to and control populations of such species." Additionally, there are many issues unique to each type of right-of-way.

Management of ROW vegetation is a complex challenge and a formidable task that varies greatly from one location to another. Because no single practice or method is likely to give the desired long-term result, a primary goal of rights-of-way vegetation management is to design an appropriate combination of practices (integrated vegetation management (IVM)) that ensure the protection, operation, safety, stability, and longevity of the particular right-of-way in question. The term IVM means different things to different people. While an integrated program attempts to include all aspects of roadside vegetation control, the deployment of herbicides to achieve many of the goals and objectives of an authentic IVM program needs to be based upon the appropriate principles and practices of the much more rigorously established ecological approach to IPM body of knowledge. It is also understood that vegetation management concepts and techniques need to address social and environmental issues such as, traffic safety, water quality, threatened and endangered species, wetland protection, native planting, and noxious weed programs. The management techniques utilized may include manual, mechanical, chemical, cultural, and biological methodologies. Those techniques, which will likely produce the least long-term disturbance to the natural and human community, should be practiced.

A problem, either actual or potential, must first be determined to exist and pose unacceptable risks; a cost benefit analysis of an array of ranges of cost-effective treatment alternatives should be given consideration; the timing of treatments should take into consideration the treatment window for optimum effectiveness and safety. Best management practices should be developed and records should be kept in a database (preferably GIS) for roadside maintenance, and the results of treatments should be monitored for effectiveness. Careful analysis of each situation is essential to reach this goal and to keep the costs at reasonable levels. Training of Rights of Way Vegetation Control Managers is essential to accomplish the same.