By Senior Technology Consultant Nathan Jones
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the old saying goes, meaning that small preventative measures taken today can result in a future state with far fewer complications. In the field of utility vegetation management, best management practices (BMPs) can help to standardize operations and ensure reliable electricity to the greatest number of customers while preventing potential problems in the future.
The days of cutting down everything growing in rights-of-way (ROW) every four years are long gone. They have been replaced by an integrated vegetation management (IVM) approach, which utilizes a combination of tree pruning, tree removal, herbicide usage and compatible species considerations to provide the safest possible ROW while being mindful of environmental impact.
With the IVM BMP, compatible plant species with no chance of interfering with power lines and electricity are allowed and even encouraged, to remain in ROW. Low-growing shrubs are favored as a defense against nuisance species and native plants can turn a ROW into a playground for pollinators instead of a barren moonscape. There is also a shift in using herbicide as a spot application where necessary instead of a high-volume broadcast application.
Of course, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to vegetation management, but following a clearly laid out set of BMPs can help bring a program up to speed and save money in the long run while building public relations and goodwill with the public at the same time.
BMPs are like a roadmap helping you get to a destination. While that is a wonderful thing, BMPs aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if they are followed loosely or ignored altogether. Like the proverbial dad who refuses to look at the map because he knows where he’s going, a few wrong turns can leave an organization in unfamiliar territory far from the goal destination.
A very important step toward reaching goals is often overlooked is monitoring. Without monitoring the key factors that have been identified within BMPs, there is no way to know what’s working, what isn’t working, how much progress is being made, and if money is being spent wisely. Like that dad, monitoring gives organizations the opportunity to stop and ask for directions if their surroundings begin to look suspicious.
Often that is the case – well-intentioned plans can give unintended results that need to be identified and corrected before too much time has gone by, too much money has been wasted and the opportunity for improvement has disappeared.
Monitoring results from the field on a utility system is easier said than done if you’re only armed with prehistoric tools. There is no magic wand that allows the impact of BMPs to magically rise from a huge pile of spreadsheets sitting on a desk. There is, however, the next best thing – software that allows progress to be monitored at any time with the click of a button.
It’s the equivalent of the directions-averse dad sticking a GPS to his windshield, typing in the address and clicking the green go button. Instant feedback allows a utility to shift from making sweeping changes at irregular intervals to fine-tuning whenever small tweaks are deemed necessary. BMPs are at their best when they provide a framework for realistic, actionable data to a utility and allow for adjustment based on real-world conditions.