American Transmission Co.

Helping to keep the lights on, businesses running and communities strong®

Blog | American Transmission Co. - Part 5

Protecting endangered species and keeping the lights on

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.

Mequon Nature Preserve plants 3,000 native trees thanks to ATC grant

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.

Butterfly weed is a must for pollinator gardens

This week’s National Wildflower Week celebrates blooms that bring landscapes to life. Whether in prairies, pastures, along roadsides or in back yards, wildflowers create habitat, help conserve water and reduce erosion.

There are lots of beautiful wildflower species that provide food for bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators, but one of the showiest wildflowers is Butterfly Weed. This year, ATC plans to give away more than 10,000 butterfly weed seed packets as part of our Grow Smart program.

“Butterfly Weed is a must for any pollinator garden,” said Melinda Myers, nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author, columnist and speaker. Since 2014, ATC has partnered with Myers to help landowners learn about compatible low-growing vegetation near transmission lines. “This stunning orange wildflower blooms from June to late August and is a favorite food source of the Monarch butterfly caterpillar.”

Interesting facts about Butterfly Weed:

  • Butterfly weed is a host plant for the monarch, queens and gray hairstreak butterflies.
  • It lacks the milky sap common to other milkweed species, but does produce seed pods containing hundreds of seeds with large silky tufts of hair that help the wind disperse the seed.
  • Butterfly weed is also known as “pleurisy root” because Native Americans used to chew the roots as a remedy for pleurisy and other pulmonary issues. The root was also commonly brewed into a tea to treat diarrhea and other stomach problems.
  • Native to the prairies of the Midwestern United States, it reaches 2 feet in height and prefers dry soils in full to partial sunlight.

Need additional wildflower suggestions? View or print our Grow Smart Planting Guide or Grow Smart Pollinator Guide and bring it to your local garden center.

Spring cleaning in the transmission line rights-of-way

With the weather turning warmer and many of us remaining safer at home, spring cleaning activities have likely begun.

ATC has our own version of spring cleaning, but due to the nature of the work and materials we use, we call it “fair-weather line maintenance” – mostly because some of our inspection and maintenance activities are weather dependent.

Each spring, ATC contractors will climb, scrape and re-paint various transmission structures. Others hand-excavate around steel and wood bases of the poles to check for and treat corrosion or decay. Others check and repair any cracking or deteriorating concrete footers.

All of these annual efforts help ensure the safety and reliability of the transmission system. Safety is always a priority at ATC, and our field workers and contractors continue to follow the COVID-19 safe distancing practices ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health guidelines.

Thanks to the efforts of these ATC contractors, along with our employees in the operations centers and the field, we’re helping to keep the lights on for you.

The Monarchs are coming!

Saturday, May 2, was National Start Seeing Monarch’s day. While we likely won’t see any Monarchs in Wisconsin just yet, they are making their way back north to their summer breeding grounds.

While the ones who left in the fall were headed all the way back to Mexico – fluttering away at 5.5 mph to make the 1,500-mile trek – we will welcome their great-great-great-grandchildren later this spring. The first-generation leaving Mexico only migrate as far north as Texas and Oklahoma. Generally, it’s the fourth generation that makes it to Wisconsin sometime between May and June.

Monarchs Population in Decline

Unfortunately, the eastern North American monarch butterfly population has declined by 90% in the past 20 years. Only 1 in 10 monarchs remain. Habitat loss has been identified is one of the main reasons for the decline.

While adult monarch butterflies sip nectar from a variety of native flowering plants like asters, coneflowers and ironweed, monarch larvae only eat milkweed. Monarchs are foul tasting and poisonous due to the presence of cardenolides in their bodies, which the caterpillars ingest from milkweed.

Helping Increase Pollinator Habitat

At ATC, we’re doing our part to help Monarchs and other pollinators. We’re members of the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative and part of the advisory committee for the Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterfly on Energy and Transportation Lands.

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.

What You Can Do

We can all help butterflies by planting more flowers. 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.

A Monarch butterfly resting on a Lupine in full bloom.