by Sig Guggenmoos

Logic is a strange and remarkable branch of philosophy. Surprisingly, it may have more relevance to our field of endeavor than we think. Logic is a problem solving process which through the use of a handful of rules, increases the chances of correct conclusions. The process involves the statement of any number of premises and a conclusion. One then begins at the conclusion and backtracks to the premises ensuring each step abides by the rules. If you cannot fill in the steps back to the source, the proposed conclusion is incorrect. That is you can’t get here from there.

Logic forces you to see the whole picture. In our field we tend to spend all our time at the beginning, with the premises. We verify over and over to ourselves that the premises are correct. We never get to the conclusion and hence people may well say to us “so what”. Is this fuzzy? Here’s a parallel. You have to go to Conquest, Saskatchewan. You get out a map and look up Conquest, your destination. Then you make the route selection between there and your point of origin. If instead you simply headed out secure with the fact that you know your point of origin and that Conquest must be to the east since it’s in Saskatchewan you might get lucky and find it. But given that only one point is Conquest and all others aren’t, chances are that you’ll never find it. If you don’t get there, of what use is the information you have?

My introduction to the use of herbicides was through conducting research. I realize now that this gave me a rather peculiar slant on things. We would be testing herbicide efficacy. If it was expected or certain indications were obtained that the herbicide might be having a phytotoxic effect on the crop then a measure of the extent of injury would show up in the yield. One might have to take it further if dealing with plants that would not yield that year or were non-crop plants. Then dry weight measurements were taken to assess the amount of vegetative growth. Since my work shifted to brush control the focus was entirely on the amount of control or kill of the target species.

And so it continued for years. My measure of success for a vegetation control program was to what extent had the target species been killed. I would suggest that I was not alone in this focus and that it is quite prevalent. This would all be neat and simple if the plants targeted just up and died. I’m glad life isn’t that simple because I always seem to learn more when there are irritants. And of course we would surely have succeeded in wiping out all life on this planet by now.

For the sake of illustration one of these uncooperative species will do. Let’s use trembling aspen. One can go about measuring the impact on leaves, number of stems and amount of stems. Many herbicides, both registered and unregistered, provide reasonable control of stems existing at the time of the application. A few control the root system, translocating throughout the plant and right on back to parent trees beyond the treatment zone. Most don’t control the roots resulting in profuse resprouting. Since most herbicides give close to the same control on the existing stems my interest started to shift to the regrowth. As a right of way manager what I really want to buy is maintenance free years for the best price. With this focus the dead stems are no longer of any interest while regrowth will clearly define future maintenance needs. This is a step forward but I’m still looking at the target species.

For five growing seasons I’ve been looking at a set of test plots with growing pleasure. Some of the plots are really picturesque to look at. And this runs from early June into October. There’s such a variety of shrubs and forbes that between flowers and foliage there’s a real show of colour. Oh yeah, the plots aren’t void of incompatible species but they’re a small component.

Last summer we began serious steps to initiate a research program to determine what species populate the right of way after our herbicide programs. This had been a desire for some time but time and/or money was restricted. The work is not yet complete but I expect with a mixture of hope and confidence that the results will be much like the test plots I’ve been cherishing.

Early this summer I heard a criticism of our industry that we aren’t looking far enough ahead. We are control, not management focussed. I think this is true. We get too caught up with the problem. We see weeds instead of bare ground or tall growing trees instead of a mixture of low growing woody plants, forbes and grasses. We are stuck with the premises but never move to a conclusion or more simply we don’t adequately define and start with the objective.

If I take that mental picture of the colourful plots and articulate the species on it a definite objective begins to emerge. I could add a lot of other species which would also be compatible with the right of way use. In general terms for our right ways (power line) a mixture of grasses and forbes sprinkled with shrubs, trees maturing below 6m and a small component of incompatible tall growing trees would be ideal. I add the incompatible trees because I don’t believe it is possible to eradicate them and hence we strive to minimize them. Such a right of way would express the natural diversity existing in the area, provide a wide base of support for wildlife, be aesthetically appealing and I believe minimize costs over the long term.

You might now be asking how do I plan to get there without using herbicides. I don’t. But what I’ve been doing is identifying a problem ie. poplar on the right of way. That’s premise 1. Then through research I arrive at premise 2: herbicide x controls poplars. If I think that the objective is to kill poplar, I could conceivably end up with bare ground or a monoculture. If I have articulated what I would like the right of way to look like, as in the previous paragraph, I won’t be led to use a herbicide that results in bare ground or a monoculture. That would not be meeting the objective even though it results in dead poplars. Equally I may see some important choices in my mechanical program. Every site intervention will either move me closer to the goal or remove me from it. And just like with getting to Conquest, if I know where it is, chances are much better that each turn will get me closer to it.

IVMAA Reporter Fall 1990