Herbaceous covers to control tree invasion in rights-of-way: ecological concepts and applications

Environ Manage. 2004 May;33(5):606-19. doi: 10.1007/s00267-004-0039-4.


In northeastern America, thousands of kilometers of utility rights-of-way (ROWs) have to be managed to prevent the establishment of a tall vegetation cover that does not comply with safety and maintenance regulations. Recent decades have seen the emergence of ecologically based vegetation control strategies to reduce environmental impacts as well as maintenance costs. One such strategy is to take advantage of competitive herbaceous covers to limit tree invasion. This approach, however, as well as its fundamental underlying principles, has been little scrutinized. In this article, (1) we present the main ecological concepts supporting the use of a herbaceous cover to limit tree invasion, emphasizing naturally forested ecosystems of northeastern America. They include reported evidence of stable plant communities and an overview of potential underlying mechanisms of inhibition. (2) We then review field applications, specifically testing the ability of seeded herbaceous covers to control tree invasion in ROWs. (3) We discuss unresolved issues relevant to management and research. The available evidence suggests that seeding herbaceous covers in ROWs can help control tree invasion, but many issues still limit broad-scale applications. The various interactions that govern plant community dynamics are far from being fully understood, so selecting species still largely depends on an empirical approach. Patterns of resistance to tree invasion must be investigated over a wide range of spatial, historical, and environmental contexts to determine effective management and seeding practices that will lead to broad-scale applications. We suggest establishing communities rather than single dominant species and using as much as possible native species to limit risks of invasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ecology
  • Electric Power Supplies*
  • Environment Design*
  • Forecasting
  • Ownership
  • Trees / growth & development*
  • United States