November marks the beginning of canopy clearing season

CHARLESTON, WV – November marks the beginning of canopy clearing season for the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH).
Canopy clearing is the act of cutting branches and brush that overhang the Mountain State’s roadways, and it’s a vital part of prolonging the life of the pavement on West Virginia’s 36,000 miles of road.
“Water is a highway’s worst enemy,” said Joe Pack, P.E., WVDOH Chief Engineer of Operations. “Anything we can do to keep water off our roadways or to help dry up that water will prolong the life of that road.”
Moisture left on pavement degrades asphalt fast, so maintenance crews cut away limbs and branches to allow sunlight to get to the roadways below.
“The canopy acts like a tent, literally trapping moisture on the roadway,” Pack said.
By federal law, maintenance crews are only allowed to clear canopy between Nov. 15 and March 31. The restriction is in place to protect endangered bat populations, which don’t typically use trees during those months.
Last year, the WVDOH set a goal of clearing 500 acres of canopy during canopy clearing season. They ended up clearing more than 550 acres.
Maintenance crews use bucket trucks, chainsaws, pole saws and chippers to clear away branches and limbs and grind them up. Bucket trucks have a reach of 40 feet, but maintenance crews have pole saws that are up to 175 feet long for reaching the highest branches.
Pack said the WVDOH has increased its budget for rental equipment to cut limbs and branches, including more than 20 Jarraff (pronounced “giraffe”) tree trimmers. The trimmers have a rotating saw blade at the end of a long, extendable boom that allows work crews to more safely trim more than 50 feet in the air.
The increased budget has allowed the WVDOH to increase this year’s trimming goal to 600 acres.
Five or 600 acres of canopy may not sound like a lot when spread over 55 counties, but the WVDOH clears canopy only along highway rights-of-way.
Last year, WVDOH cleared canopy along more than 430 miles of roadway, enough to stretch from Charleston to Myrtle Beach.