According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, nearly 69,000 wildfires burned more than 7.5 million acres throughout the United States in 2022. Both of those statistics exceed national averages over the past 10 years, indicating an urgent need to strengthen wildfire mitigation efforts across the country.
Utility companies and their vegetation management partners can make invaluable contributions to this work. While one in every 10 wildfires are caused by electrical power (California Department of Forestry & Fire Prevention), extended drought, the spread of highly flammable invasive plants and other climate-related environmental factors have led to longer-lasting wildfire seasons in recent years.
Utility rights-of-way weave throughout the United States for hundreds of thousands of miles, and strategies used to control compatible and incompatible vegetation throughout these expansive landscapes can significantly impact wildfire mitigation efforts. As we enter peak wildfire season, vegetation managers can abide by the following guidelines to not only reduce the number of wildfires caused by electrical power but also the spread of flames ignited by alternative sources:
- Improve the Control of Woody Plants
Trees and tall-growing brush species pose a persistent threat to the integrity of utility infrastructure. While mechanical mowing and tree-trimming practices lead to regrowth, seed spreading and ongoing maintenance requirements, the following chemical control methods can inhibit woody plant development to optimize tree and brush control throughout the wire zone:
- High-volume foliar applications
After full leafout in the spring, vegetation managers can apply high-volume herbicide applications directly to the foliage of small trees, vines and undesirable bushes. Recommended for the control of light-to-moderate brush stands up to 150 plants per acre, these types of treatments should be applied several weeks after mowing to improve herbicide uptake.
- Chemical side-trim treatments
Chemical side-trimming allows vegetation managers to selectively control limbs or sections of trees that pose a risk of interfering with utility infrastructure. These treatments can be applied to encroaching leaves, limbs and branches from the air or ground, and their selectivity helps vegetation managers maintain the aesthetic appeal of ROW corridors without harming desirable plants otherwise damaged by mechanical control methods.
- Recommended chemistries:
Tank mix containing HighNoon® and Vastlan® herbicides from Corteva Agriscience
- Dormant-season treatments
A number of herbicide applications can help utility vegetation managers control incompatible trees and woody plants from late fall to early spring. In fact, applying dormant-stem, basal bark and basal cut-stump treatments in the fall allows vegetation managers to address issues that would be otherwise deferred to the following foliar season.
After completing mechanical control strategies and removing existing hazards, these treatments can help practitioners prevent incompatible vegetation from posing wildfire or service-related threats in the future.
- Recommended chemistry:
Garlon 4 Ultra herbicide
- Develop Beneficial Grasses and Forbs
While the aforementioned strategies can improve brush control for wildfire mitigation programs, dormant-season treatments and other grass-friendly strategies can support spring greenup for grasses and other beneficial forbs otherwise controlled by mechanical mowing and other nonselective control strategies.
In turn, these low-growing plant communities can form a natural barrier against incompatible stem growth, which reduces future maintenance needs and keeps wildfires low for first responders working to impede their spread.
- Establish Fuel Breaks
Given their size, utility rights-of-way can play an integral role in altering a wildfire’s behavior. Biomass thinning and proper tree spacing can establish and maintain shaded fuel breaks in these areas, which create environments that can reduce flame lengths and keep wildfires low to the ground.
The width of fuel breaks will vary from one site to the next, but most range between 100 and 300 feet wide. By applying selective chemistries, such as Vastlan herbicide, vegetation managers can establish low-growing grasses and prevent woody plant development throughout ROW corridors. These treatments help vegetation managers achieve multiple goals associated with fuel break and shaded fuel break establishment, including:
- Reduction of ground and ladder fuels
- Creation of unfavorable microclimates for surface fires
- Development of safer environments for firefighters to combat the flames
Applying a well-balanced approach to mitigate the devastating effects of wildfires is a great way for utility companies to protect not only transmission and distribution infrastructure but also the communities they serve. But mitigation work is just a piece of the puzzle. To learn more about best practices for wildfire prevention and restoration in your region, explore this helpful resource.
Under normal field conditions, HighNoon® is nonvolatile. HighNoon has no grazing or haying restrictions for any class of livestock, including lactating dairy cows, horses (including lactating mares) and meat animals prior to slaughter. Label precautions apply to forage treated with HighNoon and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage. HighNoon and Vastlan are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Consult the label for full details. State restrictions on the sale and use of Garlon® 4 Ultra apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details. Always read and follow label directions.