Spraying in Bluebonnet’s vegetation management program


Using herbicides is a less expensive and more efficient way to control vegetation than cutting in the co-op’s rights-of-way. 

By Will Holford

With more than 11,000 miles of power lines to maintain, folks are probably used to seeing Bluebonnet’s crews or contractors cutting trees and vegetation in the co-op’s utility easements. Workers wielding chainsaws or skillfully guiding heavy equipment armed with multiple saw blades trim or remove vegetation that could encroach on power lines. 
The work is performed to provide safe, reliable electric service and is done according to Bluebonnet’s vegetation management plan. 
This year, Bluebonnet will resume using another method to remove trees and plants in its easements, or rights-of-way. For the first time since 2011, Bluebonnet will incorporate herbicides into its vegetation management plan. The herbicides will be used in areas that were mechanically cut within the last two or three years. 
“Using herbicides is a cost-effective way for Bluebonnet to increase the number of miles of right-of-way we maintain per year,” said Eric Kocian, Bluebonnet’s chief engineer and system operations officer. “Cutting trees, limbs and other vegetation costs more and has to be done more frequently. Cutting also causes many species of trees and shrubs to grow more limbs; herbicides cause the vegetation to die and quickly decay.” 
Kocian said right-of-way maintenance in areas where herbicides are used won’t have to be addressed as often and will cost less because vegetation won’t grow back as quickly compared with areas maintained solely by mechanical cutting. 
Bluebonnet’s certified arborists will examine vegetation in the right-of-way to determine if using herbicides is appropriate. If so, the arborist will recommend the type and amount of herbicide to use. 
Bluebonnet’s contractors are licensed by the Texas Department of Agriculture for commercial application of herbicides. In the endangered Houston toad habitat, they will only use herbicides that are approved for use according to the co-op’s habitat conservation plan, which was developed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 
Contractor crews will apply the herbicides to vegetation near the ground, called a basal application, by walking the right-of-way using hand-held spray applicators or driving all-terrain vehicles with mounted spray applicators. The two-person contractor crews typically consist of one licensed applicator and a worker to assist with driving the all-terrain vehicle and carrying the herbicides. 
In January 2009, Bluebonnet held a series of public meetings throughout its service area to discuss with landowners and members of the community the use of herbicides to control vegetation in its rights-of-way. Some landowners and residents were concerned about the environmental impact of using herbicides, but most who attended the public meetings either did not object or expressed support for the program. 
Bluebonnet’s contractors contact residents before work is done near their homes or businesses, whether they will be doing mechanical cutting or spraying herbicides. If no one is home when they attempt to contact the member, a gate or door hanger is left with information about the work to be performed and a phone number to call with questions. 
“An overwhelming majority of the members we contact are supportive of spraying herbicides on their property,” Kocian said. “Some members ask what herbicides are used and how, when and where they’re applied before they consent to spraying on their property. 
“A few members have asked us not to use herbicides on their property and, of course, we respect their choice. In those cases, we mechanically cut the vegetation in those rights-of-way.”

« Return to News