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What is Hydromowing?

Ken Black
Ken Black

Hydromowing is a process of clearing out brush and young trees from a forested area using a hydromower, which has a spinning drum and carbide teeth. Hydromowing is usually done in areas prone to forest fires. The technique clears out a significant portion of the fuel fires need to become major problems.

Hydromowing is a relatively new process. Before the technique was in use, much of the vegetation that needed to be cleared had to be done by hand, making the process much more time consuming and labor intensive. With a hydromower, more areas can be cleared in less time, giving major fires even fewer places to start. It is estimated that hydromowing costs approximately half of what hand clearing does, making it a very attractive option for some land management agencies.

Hydromowing is most commonly used in areas where forest fires are a concern.
Hydromowing is most commonly used in areas where forest fires are a concern.

Hydromowers are large pieces of heavy machinery, similar in size and shape to a bulldozer. Carbide teeth are specially treated blades, similar to what may be seen on many saws, especially circular saws. The alloy used allows the teeth to retain their shape and cutting edge longer, leading to a superior cut.

While no water is used in the actual mowing, hydromowing gets its name because the mulch that it creates has a proficient ability to retain water. This helps grass seeds and other desirable vegetation grow back in place of the undesirable species. Often, after an area is mowed, native grass seeds are planted. Further, the mulch can also help with erosion problems often associated with slopes.

Often used in mountainous regions, hydromowing does have some limitations. The hydromower cannot be used on steeper slopes. Also, some environmental groups have questioned the effectiveness of hydromowing, wondering if the heavy equipment used does not do more harm than good on the fragile ecosystem.

Hyrowmowers cannot pick and choose which plants are affected, unlike hand thinning. If a plant is in the path of the machines, hydromowers will take it down. In some cases, this could eliminate beneficial species that a land management service would otherwise leave alone.

Though hydromowing is not a technique in widespread use, it is gaining in popularity, particularly in the western United States. Colorado and California both have implemented the technique in recent years. California, which seems to garner headlines every year for its major forest fires, has a particular interest in the process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is hydromowing?

Hydromowing is an ecological land management technique that involves the use of high-pressure water streams to cut and remove vegetation. This method is particularly effective in sensitive habitats where traditional mowing could damage the soil or disrupt wildlife. It's a preferred choice for maintaining utility rights-of-way, managing invasive species, and restoring natural areas.

How does hydromowing compare to traditional mowing methods?

Compared to traditional mowing, hydromowing is less disruptive to the soil structure and can reduce the risk of erosion. It's also more precise, allowing for selective removal of invasive species without harming native plants. Additionally, hydromowing can access difficult terrain that might be challenging for conventional mowers, making it a versatile tool for land management.

Is hydromowing environmentally friendly?

Yes, hydromowing is considered environmentally friendly. It minimizes soil compaction and disturbance to the root systems of non-target plants. By using water instead of mechanical blades, it also reduces the risk of spreading plant diseases and does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, unlike gas-powered mowers.

Can hydromowing be used for large-scale land management projects?

Hydromowing is scalable and can be effectively used for large-scale land management projects. It's particularly useful for controlling invasive species over extensive areas, as it can be more targeted and less harmful to the surrounding ecosystem than broad-spectrum herbicides or heavy machinery.

What are the limitations of hydromowing?

While hydromowing is beneficial in many ways, it does have limitations. It requires a significant amount of water, which may not be sustainable or cost-effective in regions with water scarcity. Additionally, it may not be suitable for all types of vegetation, particularly those with deep or extensive root systems that can't be fully eradicated with water pressure alone.

Does hydromowing contribute to water conservation efforts?

Hydromowing can be part of water conservation efforts when used judiciously. It's important to balance the water used for hydromowing with the ecological benefits it provides, such as reducing the spread of invasive species that might otherwise consume large amounts of water. In some cases, the water used in hydromowing can be recycled or sourced from non-potable supplies.

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    • Hydromowing is most commonly used in areas where forest fires are a concern.
      By: Evgeny Dubinchuk
      Hydromowing is most commonly used in areas where forest fires are a concern.