Answering the call for pollinator support

Millions of acres of rights-of-way exist throughout the United States. These utility sites provide ideal environments for the conservation of habitat for various wildlife species, especially pollinators. As rights-of-way managers show an increased interest in adopting more pollinator-friendly management practices on the lands they manage, a new resource is providing guidance on best practices for supporting the development of pollinator habitat.  

Each year, vegetation managers across the country work to control incompatible vegetation throughout utility and transportation corridors. This work ensures electrical transmission reliability and safety on the roads. But by making small tweaks to their management programs, today’s professionals also can create favorable habitat resources for pollinators, like monarch butterflies, bumblebees and other forms of wildlife.

According to the National Resources Conservation Service, 75% of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. As essential components of our habitats and ecosystems, pollinators rely on native flowering plants, host plants and nesting sites to survive throughout the growing season. However, there has been an alarming reduction in pollinator populations in recent years, with a loss of habitat noted as a primary factor.

Utility rights-of-way and transportation corridors provide an ideal environment for pollinator habitat to exist. Plants that improve habitat for pollinators are mostly compatible with the management of energy and transportation infrastructure, which is why the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group (ROWHWG) developed the Pollinator Habitat Scorecard.  

Produced by a diverse group of experts, including ecologists, foresters, researchers and sustainability professionals, the Scorecard facilitates information sharing and learning between organizations and across sectors. It also ties seamlessly into the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Geospatial Database, which supports industrywide tracking and communications about habitat on energy and transportation lands. As a go-to resource for industry professionals wanting to support habitat development on the land they manage, the Scorecard serves multiple purposes:

  • Facilitate industry learning and collaboration by providing a common language regarding habitat on energy and transportation lands
  • Establish a consistent valuation method across rights-of-way sectors to align with existing habitat assessments and reporting practices
  • Encourage monitoring improvements by providing a flexible multi-tiered approach
  • Enhance the sharing of habitat metric reporting across all industries  

 

Having worked with ROWHWG over the past five years, Iris Caldwell, program manager for Sustainable Landscapes with the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago, emphasizes the importance of adapting practices that effectively support pollinators.

“Pollinators are the basic building blocks of our ecosystem,” Caldwell says. “When we see collapses in pollinator populations, it’s something we all need to be concerned about. A variety of vegetation management practices can support the creation of early successional habitat, and we can do so while ensuring compatibility with the needs of utility and transportation rights-of-way.”

The management practices Caldwell mentions include a combination of mechanical, chemical, cultural and biological control methods, each of which are part of an Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) strategy. IVM practices featuring the use of selective herbicide applications have been shown by research studies to be an environmentally friendly approach to controlling incompatible vegetation without disturbing native plant communities that support the development of biodiverse habitat.

This past year, ROWHWG led a national multi-sector collaborative effort to create a voluntary conservation agreement for the development of monarch butterfly habitat. The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) encourages landowners and land managers to adopt measures that result in net conservation benefits for monarch butterfly populations as the species has moved closer to extinction in recent years. As a complement to the Monarch CCAA, the Pollinator Habitat Scorecard can be used to help participating organizations meet all monitoring requirements.

“The Pollinator Habitat Scorecard aligns with the monitoring and reporting requirements of the Monarch CCAA,” Caldwell says. “Organizations enrolled in the Monarch CCAA can use Tier 1 of the Scorecard to meet the minimum monitoring requirements. Tier 2 or 3 also can be used to collect additional pollinator habitat data and qualify for a supplemental measure as well.”

For a snapshot of habitat quality on the ground today, or to better understand how management practices may impact habitat quality moving forward, access the habitat assessment protocol and management module online. As a funding partner of ROWHWG, Corteva Agriscience also encourages industry professionals interested in learning more about the environmental benefits of effective land management strategies by visiting HabitatWithHerbicides.com.

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