Transmission right-of-way transforms into wildlife habitat

Donovan Guilbeau, Entergy

In Louisiana’s ancient upper Atchafalaya River Basin, Entergy power lines and a wildlife refuge co-exist where the New Orleans-based energy company’s Webre-Richard 500 kV transmission line crosses part of Louisiana’s Sherburne Wildlife Management Area.

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It is here that partnerships are creating new wildlife habitat, reducing the risk of tall trees causing power outages and lowering right-of-way maintenance costs. A $5,000 environmental stewardship grant from Entergy became the catalyst for converting a one-mile stretch of tall trees on the transmission line right-of-way to low-growing plant cover that provides food, shelter and travel corridors to wild birds (including wild turkeys), mammals and insects.

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Entergy truly walks the talk on not only protecting the lands that our transmission lines exist on, we also endeavor to enhance the ecosystems we work in whenever possible. Entergy appreciates its responsibility as a corporate citizen to deliver reliable, safe and economical electrical service to our customers while respecting the laws of ecology, forestry, and all forms of wildlife and insect biology.

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This form of environmental stewardship is successful because all partners win. Our customers win because this program prevents tall growing trees from getting too close to the conductors causing interruption of their service. A multitude of flora and fauna win because we have used knowledge of nature’s law of natural plant succession to help create an ecosystem that feeds, houses, and gives travel options to many animals such as the wild turkey, bobcats, white-tailed deer, coyote, and rabbits.

Many insects such as grasshoppers and butterflies also benefit from the sites we help transform. Our state and federal partners win by working with Entergy to maintain these sites on their lands to sustain future cycles that allow this wonderful relationship to continue. The citizens of the state win because the sites increase the quality of all outdoor activities including wildlife photography, hiking, and canoeing. The private contractor members win by being able to display their commitment to providing professional environmental management services. And the employees and stock holders of Entergy win because we are proud to be a part of an organization that truly does respect our environment and wisely invests resources into innovative programs that meet our stewardship needs at the grassroots level while reducing overall maintenance costs.

The team and the method

Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Baton Rouge Tree Service and Chemspray South Inc. are partnering organizations with Entergy in this effort. This partnership used integrated vegetation management (IVM) to reclaim the floor of the right-of-way from tall trees to low-growing wildlife food crops. Simply put, IVM is the art and science of using manual, mechanical and herbicidal tools to control plant succession stages. We used chainsaws, mechanical mowers, high and low volume herbicide applicators, and tractors with disks and seed spreaders to accomplish our objectives.

The process was to rid the site of unwanted tree species by cutting and mowing them down. We then applied a very light solution of the herbicide glyphosate—many know this product as Roundup—to control resprouting of tree roots. After waiting 10 days, we then disked the soil to a depth of 12 inches to prepare for planting. We then applied a mix of clover and winter wheat as directed by the Louisiana State Wildlife biologist for this area. Because of the high soil fertility of this site, we did not have to apply any fertilizers at the time of planting. The rainfall and temperatures cooperated wonderfully with our timing and we achieved a beautiful outcome. Our team took a relatively wet and hard to access transmission line right-of-way and created a “Garden of Eden” for many species of both non-game and game animals, not to mention the positive effects that less noticeable creatures enjoy such as the monarch butterfly and a large variety of salamanders. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will now maintain the designated right-of-way acreage.

The cost to maintain the ecologically productive low-growing vegetation is a fraction of the cost of cutting tall trees every four to six years. The fact that our partners have stepped up to the plate to keep the sites maintained at the low-growing level is a benefit to everyone. Safety has also been enhanced by this partnership. It is far safer to plant wildlife enhancement sites compared to cutting trees down with chainsaws and machines. Also, the low-growing vegetation is easier to traverse in order to inspect the line or perform maintenance activities.

Keeping the public informed

To keep area residents informed, Entergy hosted a public forum at Krotz Springs, La., in March, where Linda Baynham, then environmental manager for Entergy’s transmission group, outlined the project’s many benefits. This event also let the general public view a demonstration area specifically planned for wildlife and learn about the long-term ecological approach used in its design. This wildlife management area is creating habitat for native and migratory wildlife. By doing this, the project is promoting public outdoor recreation because it is creating natural corridors for wildlife to use between forested areas at the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area where each year thousands of visitors enjoy hunting, fishing, camping, wildlife photography, target shooting, and nature study.

National Wild Turkey Federation biologists along with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Chemspray South, and Baton Rouge Tree Service, are working with Entergy Transmission personnel to expand the size of the program in 2003-2004. Because of the tremendous response from all parties involved, the partnership will transform an additional 25 acres on this site with options to transform an additional 20 acres on a second location near St. Francisville, La., bringing a total of 75 acres into the program year-to-date. We will continue to evaluate areas that would obtain the same objectives. At this time the team will only consider lands controlled by a member of the partnership.

Guilbeau is a senior transmission specialist with Entergy (bottom photo, far right). More information on the company can be found online at www.entergy.com.

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