Pollinators are an important part of the ecosystem. They propagate the nation’s food sources, and some species are in decline because of habitat fragmentation. Utility corridors, such as those maintained by American Transmission Co., provide excellent opportunities to develop suitable habitat for pollinators. This type of habitat – with vigorously growing forbs, grasses and shrubs – also provides ideal food and cover for birds, deer, rodents and others.
As a transmission line owner and operator, it’s our job to keep the lights on and maintain electric system reliability. Transmission lines can sway with wind or sag during heavy use, and tall or nearby vegetation (such as trees) can compromise the safety and reliability of the electric transmission system. A tree does not need to make contact with a transmission line to cause an unsafe situation. Arcing can occur and potentially cause damage to the tree and subsequently create an outage.
Low-growing, compatible vegetation is best option to plant in the right-of-way, because it is a safe distance from the power lines. Perennials and grasses also can grow and thrive within transmission line rights-of-way, making pollinator-attracting vegetation ideal for utility corridors. Sustainable rights-of-way with compatible plant communities also can help limit ATC’s long-term vegetation management program, which is needed to help keep the lines safe and reliable.
Our Grow Smart® program encourages landowners to plant beautiful, safe, low-growing vegetation a safe distance from transmission line rights-of-way. Even if you do not have an easement with ATC or another electric utility, Grow Smart offers suggestions for low-growing, compatible planting options that also help attract pollinators.
Pollinators use nectar for energy (carbohydrates), and pollen for growth and development (as a source of protein and fats). Having a variety of flowering plants throughout the year ensures that we are helping a range of pollinators, at the time of year they need it.
Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary – Green Bay, Wis. Just south of the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay is a 138,000-volt and 69-kV transmission line, both located within an ATC-owned right-of-way. Several years ago, ATC identified this six-acre right-of-way as an opportunity to proactively manage the vegetation there, and transition the habitat into a space that would ultimately attract pollinators.
The first phase of this pollinator project began in 2015, when ATC vegetation management contractors used vegetation mowers to control the invasive species, such as buckthorn, from approximately six acres of the right-of-way. The following year, herbicides were selectively applied to the remaining invasive species within that acreage. On May 9, 2017, ATC’s environmental contractor, Cardno, used equipment to broadcast a pollinator seed mix over two and one-half acres of the right-of-way in an effort to establish pollinator habitat. ATC also partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this project, who ultimately provided funding for the seeding of this project.
The seed mix spread in May 2017 will attract and benefit a variety of pollinators, but primarily native wild bees and butterflies, including monarchs. The variety of seed planted at Bay Beach is designed to provide flowering plants throughout the growing season that will provide nectar and pollen.
Environmental representatives from ATC and Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary continue to monitor the vegetation as it becomes established, and the track the pollinators that benefit from it.
Mequon Nature Preserve – Mequon, Wis. The Grow Smart® pollinator garden located at the Mequon Nature Preserve is the first landscaped garden of its kind in ATC’s service area. The initial portion of this project included funding for pollinator seed within five acres of right-of-way at the preserve. Months later and in collaboration with ATC’s environmental contractor, Cardno, we developed a half-acre landscape plan under a 345-kV right-of-way and planted 18 different species totaling 3,300 plugs that will ultimately attract pollinators. The partnership established in 2017 with Mequon Nature Preserve will help provide a contiguous flight path for monarch butterflies and other pollinators within ATC’s right-of-way for decades to come.
“Before you know it, they’ll be covered in snow and go dormant,” said the director of education and research, Jason Nickels. “When they wake up in spring, then they’ll grow feet–or, more accurately, start to root.”
Read more about this project on our blog.
Party for the Planet – Milwaukee County Zoo – Milwaukee, Wis. For over a decade each spring, ATC has sponsored an event at the Milwaukee County Zoo called Party for the Planet, which helps educate visitors how to create a healthy environment for all living things on Earth. Kids, parents and all others visit ATC’s booth to learn what they can do to help the pollinators.
Outside, visitors can assist nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist, Melinda Myers by planting pollinator-attracting, native perennials and annuals in ATC’s pollinator garden. This garden is one of the interactive displays at the event that provides an opportunity for visitors to work alongside Melinda Myers to plant and maintain a garden that attracts bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators. Melinda Myers is ATC’s spokesperson for the Grow Smart program, which promotes planting low-growing, compatible vegetation in the rights-of-way.
Balsam Substation – Village of Wheatland, Wis. The site of the new Balsam Substation, which supports the Spring Valley-North Lake Geneva Project, required vegetative restoration following ATC’s stormwater management development in summer 2017. In lieu of a standard seed mix, which would still meet permit conditions, ATC opted to use an enhanced seed mix with the intent of monitoring for pollinator habitat in the future. Today, the site is comprised of six acres of pollinator-attracting seed mix on the site perimeter. This approach will ultimately produce low-growing vegetation in the future that requires minimal maintenance and helps attract pollinators.
ATC Headquarters – Pewaukee, Wis. ATC corporate headquarters in Pewaukee includes a six-acre prairie and detention basins, infiltration basins, parking lot bioswales and snow melt areas. Our environmental and facilities teams were extensively involved in the development of native landscaping when the Pewaukee headquarters building was initially established in 2007. The initial vegetation cover at that point was 39% pollinator-attracting forbs or flowering plants. Following our prairie restoration efforts, 68% of the vegetation onsite was forbs or flowering plants.
These efforts established years ago helped ATC earn a conservation certification and two awards from the Wildlife Habitat Council during their annual meeting in November 2017. ATC was recognized by WHC for the Invasive Species Management Award and the Green Infrastructure Award. Both awards were selected from nearly 900 projects submitted by organizations across the nation.
The POWR model
To help ATC reach the goals of our Pollinator Program, we developed the Pollinator Opportunities Within Rights-of-Way (POWR) GIS mapping tool to help identify priority areas for pollinator conservation. The focus of this effort was to identify and prioritize which areas of rights-of-way can be enhanced to create a contiguous flight path for pollinators. This landscape conservation analysis identified approximately 10% of ATC’s transmission line system that can be enhanced in Wisconsin as landscape connections for pollinators.
Enhanced seed mixes
ATC has committed to using pollinator-enhanced seed mixes during project restoration activities. Project teams, construction contractors and ATC environmental project managers work together to use the results of the POWR model to help determine where the enhanced mixes may benefit pollinator species in specific rights-of-way following construction. The mixes are designed to provide flowering forbs throughout the growing season.
Public seed distribution
Each year, ATC distributes pollinator-attracting seeds in the form of custom seed packets to the public at events featuring nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist, Melinda Myers. To date, ATC and Myers have distributed nearly 10,000 seed packets across the Upper Midwest to interested recipients. Seed species have included: prairie blazing star, wild bergamot, purple coneflower and common milkweed. Additional suggestions for vegetation that helps attract pollinators can be found on our pollinator planting guide, located here. Note: a list of ATC-sponsored events featuring Melinda Myers is located on our Grow Smart page, which is updated at the beginning of each year.