Blog | American Transmission Co. - Part 2
Happy National Gardening Week. ATC encourages you to get your hands dirty and plant some pollinator-friendly plants this week!
What exactly are pollinator-friendly plants? They can be flowering plants, trees and shrubs that provide nutrient-rich nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Native plants, however, are the most important ones since pollinators co-evolved with native plants. With native pollinator populations in decline, you can help by planting a few native pollinator-friendly plants in your yard.
If you want to plant for pollinators, think in threes.
- Plant a minimum of 3 varieties of flowering plants to ensure you attract several pollinator species. Common spiderwort is a favorite of bees, while the Turk’s cap lily is favored by hummingbirds and butterflies. Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds are columbine, coneflowers, blazing stars and lupine.
- Aim for blooms across 3 seasons – spring, summer and fall. Be sure to include milkweed for summer as monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on their leaves. Butterfly weed with its bright orange flowers, is a great choice.
- Use at least 3 types of native plants in your landscape. Include flowers, woody plants (e.g., New Jersey tea) and grasses (e.g., little bluestem),to provide forage, cover and places to raise young.
June 6 is National Prairie Day and we’re honoring these amazing ecosystems that once covered 400,000 square miles of North America.
At one time, the North American prairies stretched from the Rocky Mountains to east of the Mississippi River, and from Saskatchewan, Canada, south into Texas. It was our continent’s largest continuous ecosystem and supported an enormous quantity of plants and animals.
According to the National Park Service, the tallgrass prairie has been reduced to less than 4% of its original area, making it one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world. And, no other ecosystem in the Midwest hosts more native pollinating insects than prairie.
With native pollinator habitat in decline, we’re glad to demonstrate our environmental commitment and do our small part with the four-acre prairie outside our Pewaukee headquarters building. A prairie may not be practical for your backyard, but you can help pollinating insects like bees and butterflies by adding just a few native prairie plants to your garden or landscaping. Wildflowers like purple coneflower, butterfly weed, and smooth blue aster will add color to your yard and provide food for bees, birds and butterflies. Prairie grasses like little bluestem and prairie dropseed can add interest to your landscaping, while also providing food and shelter for pollinators.
May 20 is World Bee Day – a chance to acknowledge the role of bees on our lives and our planet. While the number of all bee populations has declined over the last few decades, it continues to be concern because of the important role bees play as pollinators.
Many species of animal – including humans – depend on bees for their survival because their food source, including nuts, berries, seeds, and fruits, relies on insect pollination. Pollination not only makes food available for other organisms but also allows floral growth, which provides habitats for animals, including other insects and birds.
Wisconsin is home to roughly 500 species of native bees. Among the biggest threat to native bees is habitat loss. In 2017, the rusty-patched bumble bee was added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list, after a population decline of 87% since the late 1990s. The species is likely to be present in only 0.1% of its historical range, which includes Wisconsin.
Helping Increase Pollinator Habitat
At ATC, we’re doing our part to help bees and other pollinators. We developed a first-of-its-kind Pollinator Power Model to map and identify suitable pollinator habitat (e.g., meadows, pastureland, etc.) and gaps in pollinator pathways along our over 9,890 miles of transmission lines. This enables us to strategically enhance pollinator habitat in our service territory. We also use a specially-developed pollinator seed mix as part of our new and rebuild construction efforts.
Our Pollinator Habitat Program promotes vegetation that is both compatible with our vegetation management practices and provides habitat for pollinators, which use the utility corridor as a flight path. Since 2017, we’ve awarded approximately $45,000 to 10 entities to help them create pollinator habitats along our transmission corridor. One of those entities, the Village of Mount Pleasant, is working to improve native pollinator habitat along the Pike River Pathway where the rusty patched bumble bee has been was observed.
What You Can Do
We can all help bees and other pollinators by planting more native plants, like wild lupines, smooth blue asters and wild bergamot (also known as bee balm). In collaboration with nationally known gardening expert Melinda Myers, we developed two guides to identify vegetation that is similar to what we plant in our rights-of-way. These suggested native plants have deep root systems that will beautify your property and help attract bees, butterflies and birds. Visit atc-GrowSmart.com for resources and recommendations.
The third Friday in May is always National Endangered Species Day, an opportunity to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species, their habitats and what it takes to do so.
Currently, there are 12 endangered and 11 threatened species in Wisconsin and 3 endangered and 8 threatened species in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that fall under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Bald Eagles do not fall under the Federal Endangered Species Act, but are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Environmental protection in action
We take our environmental commitment very seriously. Before starting any construction project, ATC conducts environmental surveys to identify any threatened or endangered species. Then we work with environmental regulators to minimize any potential impacts to listed plants or animals. All of our efforts follow national and state guidelines and align with ATC’s Environmental Commitment Statement.
Here are just a few examples of conservation measures we’ve taken to protect threatened or endangered species during our construction work in our service area:
- The Eastern Massauga Rattlesnake is a state and federally listed endangered species generally found along rivers in wetland areas. With the approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, we installed nearly 30 miles of snake exclusion fencing across three construction projects, hundreds of plywood snake cover boards that help them regulate their body temperature and aid in their removal from the active construction area, and mat roads that provide a flat surface to help construction crews spot animals in the right-of-way. We also train construction crews on the proper protocol for reporting snake sightings to environmental monitors.
- The Higgins Eye Pearlymussel and Sheepnose mussel are 2 of the 5 endangered mussel species in Wisconsin. During one project, ATC environmental contractors searched the sandy bottom of the Wisconsin River edge to relocate the mussels away from the construction area.
- ATC coordinated with the Hiawatha National Forest to protect the endangered Hines’ Emerald Dragonfly and Houghton’s Goldenrod species by marking areas to avoid during a construction project with pennant flagging and bright orange safety fencing. ATC also relocated 200 Houghton’s Goldenrod plants near a substation to improve construction access and avoid further disturbing the plants.
- ATC scheduled construction of a transmission line over the Wisconsin River to lessen any impacts on the Bald Eagles that catch fish in the open water near a dam and perch in trees along the shoreline in winter. ATC used a helicopter air crane to shorten the construction schedule and avoid Bald Eagle roosting season. Additionally, a light-duty helicopter crew installed bird diverters on the transmission line to help birds see thin wires and adjust their flight paths to avoid contact with the electrical wires.
The Mequon Nature Preserve recently planted 3,000 native trees to help reforest select areas that are reverting back to hardwood forests. The tree purchase was made possible by a $4,500 grant from ATC. The trails in the 44-acre Preserve are currently open to the public, but its education center is closed until June 1.
“We’re so excited to see the trees going into the ground. They’ll add a layer of food and habitat that is currently missing in select areas,” said Kristin Gies, Executive Director of the Mequon Nature Preserve . “With this grant, we’re increasing diversity not only within the plant community, but also our wildlife community.”
ATC recognizes that trees and vegetation are among the features that make communities special places for residents and visitors. While we can’t allow trees or tall‑growing vegetation in our rights‑of‑way, our Community Planting Program enables us to encourage and support qualifying entities to plant trees and vegetation that will beautify communities in a way that doesn’t compromise the safety and reliability of the electric transmission system. ATC has awarded approximately 240 communities and organizations with funds totaling more than $425,000 since the program’s inception in 2013.
Both the Community Planting Program and Pollinator Habitat Program are part of ATC’s Grow Smart® initiative, which advocates for and provides suggestions of low-growing, compatible vegetation that can be planted in transmission line rights-of-way.
ATC accepts applications from July 1 through Sept. 30. Award recipients are selected and notified by the end of the year. Awards for both programs range from $100 to $5,000. Additional information and program applications can be found at atc-GrowSmart.com.