NRVMA honors vegetation pros with ’98 Roadside Excellence awards

The National Roadside Vegetation Management Association recognizes successful roadside programs, roadside managers and an individual contributor at its annual meeting in Salt Lake City

Roadside Maintenance Article December 28, 2000
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In 1987, the National Roadside Vegetation Management Association (NRVMA) initiated the Roadside Excellence Awards as a way to identify and recognize the most successful roadside managers in the nation.

According to NRVMA, the Roadside Excellence Awards honor the best state, county and municipal vegetation-control programs in addition to an individual who has contributed to these programs. The awards are given based on the merits of safety, economics, aesthetics, environmental compatibility and innovative techniques of each program.

Sponsored by the Monsanto Co., this year’s awards were announced at a luncheon during NRVMA’s annual conference this past October in Salt Lake City.

ROADS & BRIDGES would like to recognize each of the Roadside Excellence Award winners, offering a synopsis on each categorical winner and their vegetation program or research.

State DOT category

Caltrans manages approximately 15,000 miles of highway and more than 230,000 acres of right-of-way throughout California. A major portion of the management and maintenance effort is associated with vegetation control.

“The need for vegetation control is driven primarily by safety concerns, such a minimizing fire potential and ensuring visibility of traffic and highway structures,” said Douglas C. Boyd, director of maintenance for Caltrans. “In addition, vegetation control is beneficial by limiting environmental damage caused by noxious weeds, pests and erosion.”

Caltrans has developed a new direction for its vegetation control program over the past 12 years. Challenges by public groups for its chemical intensive control program have resulted in a management strategy which stresses segment-specific, integrated vegetation management for the near term control program. At the same time, Caltrans is exploring changes to be incorporated into future designs of highway facilities which can reduce or eliminate the need for vegetation control and promote the establishment of appropriate species of vegetation on roadsides to accomplish the same end, according to Boyd.

Caltrans has adopted goals of reducing chemical dependency for its vegetation control program over time— 50%by the year 2000 and 800by the year 2012. These goals were set in 1992 and progress is being made to attain them.

The public concern for the potential of vegetation control chemicals to cause adverse health and environmental effects led Caltrans managers to conclude that attention should be paid to moving away from relying solely on chemicals for the long run of the program. Accordingly, an integrated vegetation management (IVM) policy was adopted which is a more flexible program than before. The IVM approach was to identify as many valid vegetation management tools as possible and to use them appropriately as specific approaches tailored to segment-specific characteristics.

It was envisioned Caltrans could immediately reduce its chemical reliance by developing and encouraging alternate vegetation control techniques, improving the vegetarian control decision-making process and design roadsides that minimize vegetation problems.

“The short-term goal reflects management’s view that doing the work ‘smarter’ can satisfy the fire risk and visibility requirements while reducing the quantity of chemical used in the work,” said Boyd.

“The long-term goal reflects the view that highways can probably be cost-effectively designed to reduce the need for vegetation control and thereby reduce the need for chemicals,” added Boyd. “A vision for establishing more appropriate perennial and preferably native species of vegetation on highway roadsides to further reduce the need for vegetation control also was developed. Ideally, these species will be slow- and low-growing and require no irrigation.”

County category

According to Paul Korbulic, Jackson County Roads & Parks, Jackson County, Ore., has the same needs as most counties in developing an effective vegetation management plan.

“But, we also have other factors which if not addressed would dictate our future, plan or no plan,” said Korbulic.

Home to the Rogue River and adjacent to Crater Lake National Park, Jackson County is approximately 2,801 sq miles in a semi-arid climate with elevation differences between 6,000-12,000 ft.

“We are home to almost every noxious weed on the state’s noxious weed list and our budgets have been subjected to the decline of the northwest’s timber industry,” said Korbulic. “Our county road system has 950 road miles, combined with the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) District 8, we have 1,500 road miles.”

In terms of the relationship with roadside management, over the past few years the roadways have been subject to questions about how they are maintained and how they impact the environment, especially in water quality, according to Korbulic.

Besides the standard issues which affect integrated vegetation management planning, such as aesthetics, safety and noxious weed control, additional factors needed to be addressed through a plan for both agencies in the Rogue Valley region. Because of these additional factors, the county began to think that a multi-agency regional watershed approach was the best approach to utilize.

“Jackson County has a good vegetation management program in place,” said Korbulic. “We have a great work management system to help plan and track our work and we take a strong programmatic approach. We have good equipment, trained employees and a decent budget, but we have not been addressing all the critical factors which if gone unaddressed, could dictate our future. We needed to be proactive and look at the bigger picture.”

The state and county could have developed separate vegetation management plans, but both had to address critical factors and avoid duplication of effort. Jackson County’s Upper Rogue Valley plan development process brought together organizational needs with landscape needs by developing and applying the latest technology and data in the field.

The plan provided uniform standards and management practices for Jackson County and the state, while providing a format for Jackson County and the state to work together on vegetation management. Additionally, the plan provided a uniform response and approach for other agencies and interest groups in regards to Jackson County’s approach to noxious weeds and the use of herbicides.

City category

Nestled in the valley of the southern Appalachian Mountain Range, Birmingham, Ala., is a city rich in history and tradition dating back to the turn of the century.

“Quality of life plays an integral part of the southern tradition, and to enhance the quality of life in Birmingham, the city created the Department of Horticulture and Urban Forestry (HUF),” said James Boynton, director of horticulture and urban forestry. “Charged with maintaining and enhancing improved right-of-ways throughout the city, the department’s primary focus was quality of service and efficiency.”

Success in departmental operations, combined with both political and public support for HUF’s programs, has led to a threefold increase in resources and responsibilities across the city of Birmingham. Presently, HUF has an operating budget of $5.5 million and employs 154 people year round.

HUF consists of three operating divisions, horticulture, urban forestry and special services. Each of these divisions play an integral part in the care, maintenance and enhancements of right-of-ways and park properties throughout the city.

“The Horticulture Division is responsible for all grass mowing operations on improved right-of-ways, park properties and city facilities,” said Boynton. “During the mowing season, the division mows approximately 2,000 acres every 10 days or roughly 200 acres a day throughout the city.”

The Urban Forestry Division is responsible for tree care on city right-of-ways and city property throughout Birmingham. Recognized now for six straight years as a “Tree City USA” designee, Birmingham’s Urban Forestry program has become a model for other cities to duplicate.

“Removal of dead or dangerous trees, selective pruning and/or thinning of tree canopies and stump grinding are the division’s primary responsibilities,” said Boynton.

Yet the program to receive the most notoriety has been the “Make-A-Difference” tree planting program initiated three years ago.

“Providing trees which are grown in our city nursery to organized groups such as neighborhoods, and schools to be planted on city right-of-ways or public parks is what ‘Make-A-Difference’ is all about,” said Boynton. “Bringing people together in an organized manner, to not only get to know each other better but to provide a positive public/private relationship that enhances the quality of life.”

The department is currently averaging approximately 30 “Make-A-Difference” tree plantings per year while installing 5,000 trees within the city limits of Birmingham.

Finally, the Special Services Division is designed to be the support entity for both Horticulture and Urban Forestry divisions. Functions that include equipment maintenance and repair, plumbing/irrigation support, floriculture, pesticide application and landscape renovation and construction are but a few of the responsibilities that Special Services provides.

“Management and operation of our city nursery and growing facility is another major component of the Special Services Division,” said Boynton. “The nursery staff is responsible for producing upwards of 250,000 bedding plants, 20,000 ornamental shrubs and 5,000 to 7,000 trees for use throughout the city on an annual basis.”

Support category

Dr. Harvey Holt, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, joins NRVMA’s list of individuals recognized for their contributions to roadside excellence. Dr. Holt’s current responsibilities include teaching, research and extension. He currently teaches a course on Arboricultural Practices or, more basically, how to climb trees. The course emphasizes individual tree care practices in the urban environment and is consistently highly rated by students.

Dr. Holt’s research activities focus on industrial vegetation management consisting of roadsides, railroad and electric right-of-ways, total vegetation control, tree growth regulators and forestry. Herbicides and application technology to reduce herbicide use have been included in the research program.

“Over the years, cooperative projects have been established within and outside Indiana with departments of transportation, railroads, electric utilities, state and federal agencies, forest industries and private landowners.” said Dr. Holt.

NRVMA recognized Dr. Holt for his research on the Russian Thistle Test, at the Union Pacific Railroad yard in Ogden, Utah; the Kochia Test at the Union Pacific Railroad in Salt Lake City; and selective roadside treatments using WeedSeeker in Salt Lake City.

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