Right-of-Way: A Natural Home for Pollinators

Right-of-Way: A Natural Home for Pollinators


CN Utility Consulting (CNUC) Consulting Utility Forester Billy Plant wrote an article titled “Rights-of-Way: A Natural Home for Pollinators.” The article was published in the September/October issue of the Utility Arborist Newsline.

As I walked along a rural right-ofway (ROW) in June, a bumblebee caught my eye. It was bouncing from one milkweed plant to another examining flowers before she (bumblebees are all female) finally settled on one. The bee was lured to the flower by its nectar, which serves as a sustenance for myriad insects and heavy-bodied bees that need it for energy to fuel their long flights. It’s encouraging to see bees, butterflies, and other pollinators thriving in ROWs.

Due to urban sprawl paving over meadows and the incessant mowing of rural roadsides and medians, pollinator populations have steadily declined in recent years. In addition, the number of managed honeybee hives has quickly declined due to a series of conditions collectively known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). These declines impact everyone, not just the bees! Collectively, native pollinators and honeybees pollinate more than 90 percent of wildflowers and about one-third of the food crops in the U.S. They are essential to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems and the food industry.

Due to these declines in our pollinator species, groups such as the Pollinator Partnership and North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) have developed guidelines to help electric utilities better understand and develop forwardthinking approaches to ROW maintenance, which will help preserve the pollinators’ habitat while keeping ROWs safe for electrical conductors.

In many vegetation management programs, ROWs are maintained by an alternating use of mechanical and chemical means. For example, oneyear trees can be cut back and the area under the conductors is mowed, and the next year the ROW can be sprayed with non-selective herbicide. Groups advocating for pollinator friendly ROWs recommend an integrated vegetation management (IVM) strategy, which incorporates selective cutting of tall growing woody species and the selective spraying of problematic, weedy species. Additionally, they recommend leaving a border of flowering shrubs along the edges of ROWs to act as a buffer between problematic tall growing species and the herbaceous area of forbs and grasses under the electrical conductors. One way to implement the IVM strategy is by having the utility work in partnership with the communities it serves. A utility could host a volunteer day for its customers or other members of the general public to come out and plant a variety of wildflowers and flowering shrubs in the ROWs. When planting near a ROW, it’s important to take note of the wildflowers that already grow in that area and try to establish healthy populations of those species, rather than bringing in other species that may not thrive in that location. It’s also essential for the seed mixes to contain a variety of wildflowers so that some species are in bloom throughout the growing season.

The Right-of-Way Stewardship Council (ROWSC) has developed a list of criteria that helps utilities develop vegetation management programs that benefit pollinators. In the ROWSC document Accreditation Standards for ROW Excellence, it explains that utilities should understand and maintain healthy plant and animal communities within ROWs. For example, demonstrating a commitment to research and expanding public education is an important step for utilities. Auditors look for sustainable ROWs where a mix of forbs and shrubs provide habitat and help keep undesirable species at bay. Auditors also check to ensure there are no signs of non-selective herbicides. By incorporating these standards and gaining accreditation from the ROWSC, utilities can greatly impact habitats in ROWs and ultimately save time, money, wildlife, and pollinators.


To view the article, click here.



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