The vegetation management team at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) now provides vegetation management services to neighboring utilities in northern Florida, U.S.

In 1999, the first year of providing its services to other utilities, GRU signed vegetation management contracts with municipal utilities in Green Cove Springs and Starke, Florida. In the spring of 2000, GRU began providing transmission-line vegetation management services for one of Florida's largest municipal utilities with 130,000 customers-almost twice the size of GRU.

Proper vegetation management increases reliability while lowering long-term costs. "One of the problems GRU regularly sees is repeated mowing and cutting. Cutting trees just makes them come back all the more next year. Using the right herbicides dramatically reduces the number of times a utility must go back to manage vegetation," says Tracy Maxwell, director of the vegetation management staff at GRU.

Proposals outline a comprehensive integrated vegetation management (IVM) program, where GRU staff contract to manage entire programs, which include notifying property owners; working with city, county and state agencies; contracting crew to mow, trim and apply herbicides; monitoring the work of the crews; and inspecting the lines.

GRU has done such a good job on its own rights of way (ROW) that it received the 1998 Best Rights of Way Award from the Project Habitat Wildlife Enhancement program. The Project Habitat program is a partnership among the National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Unlimited, Butterfly Lovers International, Buckmasters and American Cyanamid Co.

Studies by Clemson University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute show that managing rights of way according to Project Habitat guidelines shifts the balance of species toward the low-growing plants that are beneficial to wildlife.

In addition, fast-growing trees and unwanted brush are kept under control. The IVM regime lengthens the ROW maintenance cycle, saving the utility money through reduced long-term vegetation management costs. At the same time, reliability is improved and wildlife habitat is enhanced.