Industry Trends

Ecology as a Management Tool: Maintaining Vegetation

Written by: Senior Ecologist, Jim Kooser

All of us who own property “manage” vegetation. We have a notion of what our particular piece of landscape should look like and we take a variety of steps to get it to that point. We mow, plant, fertilize and “weed” to remove the plants we don’t want and encourage the growth of those plants we do want. Simple items like a mower, pruner, shovel, rake and spreader may suffice for your half-acre suburban patch of the planet but managing vegetation on larger scales requires different tools.

Japanese knotweed is an aggressive invader of our native landscape. It’s a tricky plant to control, but we can offer solutions.

Why Manage Vegetation?

Some entities, like operators of electric or gas transmission lines, departments of transportation or operators of large earthen dams and landfills need to exclude tall-growing trees with deep, complex root systems for safety reasons. Trees that grow close to high-voltage power lines can cause electrical faults and potentially large-scale blackouts. Trees on earthen dams or landfills may have root systems that penetrate to critical layers, leading to a potential failure of these containment systems.

A well-maintained, biologically diverse right-of-way in upstate New York

Other owners of larger tracts of land like campuses, office complexes and industrial sites often want to present a clean, natural aspect that encourages the growth of desirable vegetation while preventing the growth of undesirable species. Parks and nature preserve managers are often interested in maintaining plant communities that are representative of the native vegetation of a locality or region, and generally free of what we ecologists call “invasive species”- plants brought in from other regions of the globe that often replace the native species on which our wildlife depend. In short, if you own or manage land, you are certainly involved in managing vegetation!

Effective vegetation management is often needed to maintain the functions of areas like this stormwater management facility.

Using Ecology as a Management Tool

In the 1950s, scientists and managers began to dabble in a new idea called Integrated Pest Management. Originally developed to manage insect pests, the idea was to use what we knew about the biology of target insects, along with the careful application of mechanical and chemical controls to reduce pest levels. Land managers soon applied the same techniques and logic to the management of other pests, including unwanted vegetation, and the practice of Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) was born. Since the 1990s IVM has become the standard for managing vegetation along rights-of-way. Under a well-designed IVM program, managers identify the undesirable plants AND the plants to be left to thrive. From an understanding of the biology of these two groups of plants, we can design a treatment program that reviews all potential control tools to reach the goal: mechanical, cultural, and chemical.

Common Reed is a very tall grass introduced from Europe. It has spread throughout US wetlands. Removing this species lets native plants recover, improving habitat for native wildlife.

It’s an interesting concept for a practicing ecologist because the idea is to manipulate the ecology of an area to make it a bad place to be an undesirable plant. When done correctly, the result is an almost self-maintaining plant community, where the desirable plants control the emergence and growth of the “weeds”. This results in a safe and efficient operating facility and grounds that are attractive to people and wildlife – all with a decrease in cost over time!

We Can Help!

Our Environmental and Ecological Solutions Team includes plant ecologists with decades of experience managing vegetation along electric transmission corridors, gas pipelines, highways, parks, nature preserves, commercial sites and more! We’re ready to help you manage the ecology of your particular area.

Contact Jim Kooser

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