Making New Discoveries in the FieldIndustry
On a hot July day under a Liberty Utilities’ electric transmission right-of-way, Chet Ellis, a senior consulting utility forester with CNUC, stumbled upon a couple of unidentified plant species.
Working on Liberties’ ROW Habitat Program, it was Chet’s job to inventory plant species under the right-of-way for the utility. Unclear on a few species he had found, Chet took to the internet and posted pictures to the Missouri Native Plant Society Facebook page in hopes of finding an answer.
He immediately got a response. “There were a few excited people on the Facebook page that helped me identify the unknowns down to the species level and they even suggested that these discoveries could be new occurrences for the county I was in,” Chet explained. “Two very skilled and helpful botanists told me there was no county data for either species in the most well-known databases.” The species found – Melanthium virginicum and Dichanthelium leibergii, were looking to be the first recorded occurrences in Hickory County.
Intrigued, Chet researched the process for making these species records official. He turned in physical specimens of the plants to Malissa Briggler, State Botanist at the Missouri Deptartment of Conservation, along with maps to the location, pictures, and the “Plants of Conservation Concern” form. After a few tense weeks of waiting on news, Chet received confirmation from Malissa that the two species he found under the right-of-way were, in fact, M. virginicum and D. leibergii, and they were the first recorded occurrence of those species in Hickory County.
Malissa informed Chet that D. leibergii was a species that is tracked by the Missouri Natural Heritage Program (MOHEP), an essential data source for tracking rare species at the international, national and state level. He also received news on two other species he had reported on – Malvastrum angustum and Portulaca Pilosa. These were also tracked by MOHEP, and while they were not new county records, they are now being tracked as new recorded populations of the species.
The formal letter also acknowledged Chet, CNUC and Liberty Utilities for their efforts.
“Thank you again for notifying us of these important plant populations,” said Malissa. “This work will expand our knowledge of the distribution of Missouri flora and the status of rare species.”
Chet was not alone in his efforts. Having the support and confidence of his CNUC supervisor Larin McCulley and Liberty Utilities’ Vegetation Manager Jason Grossman to execute the ROW Habitat Program was essential. “If it weren’t for them giving me the time and space to work on this exciting new program, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Chet. He also acknowledged the crucial help from amateur and professional botanists he had networked with online.
Chet was ecstatic that he was able to make this discovery, “It was totally unexpected, and I think the biggest feeling was surprise,” Chet said. “When we started this project, I didn’t anticipate we would make this kind of impact. Our primary goals are Integrated Vegetation Management, developing sustainable plant communities, and making this new approach viable for the utility; so, finding species in previously unknown locations wasn’t even on our radar.”
By taking the time and effort to stop and investigate, Chet was able to help expand the knowledge of these and make an impact on the botanical community.
“We have effectively expanded the range map of several species, three that are rare and of conservation concern in Missouri– just by having eyes out on the right-of-way,” Chet added. “It contributes to the knowledge of the botanical community and has made the utility industry and our company an important contributor to that botanical knowledge.”