As the coronavirus pandemic has kept us home and has slowed much of our lives, butterflies, bees and hummingbirds have been abuzz with business as usual — pollinating the many plants we enjoy, from tomatoes to ornamental flowers.
These animals pollinate over 75% of our flowering plants and nearly 75% of all our crops, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They play a crucial role in both human food systems and natural ecosystems. Without pollinating insects, many plant species would be unable to produce the food we eat. When essential pollinators are absent, hand pollination, also known as mechanical pollination, is used. This is a labor-intensive process done by manually transferring pollen between plants using a cotton swab or small brush.
Although our native pollinators are critical to supporting resilient ecosystems, they face threats from habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Whenever native vegetation is replaced by development, manicured lawns, crops, invasive species or nonnative landscaping, pollinators may lose the food and nesting sites necessary for their survival.
The improper use of pesticides can also negatively impact pollinators and their habitats, decimating populations. Common insecticides found in lawn care and landscaping products, even at low levels, can persist in the environment and be detrimental to pollinators long after their application. The loss of pollinator habitats and persistent pesticides in the environment, coupled with natural weather events such as droughts, wildfires, storms and flooding, can devastate pollinator populations.
All landowners and land managers can have a hand in supporting pollinator populations by considering which plants are planted and the timing and use of pesticide and herbicide products during vegetation maintenance. Electric transmission line and pipeline rights-of-way owned or managed by utilities have great potential for pollinator habitat. The linear configuration of the rights-of-way can act as pollinator corridors, connecting large blocks of suitable right-of-way habitat for pollinators.
Utility vegetation maintenance plans should consider establishing pollinator-friendly spaces. These proactive measures can help a utility offset activity in other areas that may negatively impact a pollinator habitat.
Maintenance crews are well-positioned to identify the remote, low-maintenance land that is ideal for pollinator-friendly plantings. Maintenance plans should also consider the sustainability of the pollinator-friendly spaces. Land adjacent to crop fields where pesticides may be used or land that that has been set aside for future development is unlikely to result in successful pollinator habitats for the long term.
Even if a utility does not own all the land along the right-of-way, its land managers and maintenance crews can engage and educate landowners on pollinator-friendly options for the land. Utilities can also offer advice on when to mow or harvest hay from land to minimize impact on pollinators.
Each state and region will have pollinator plants native to the area that will attract a variety of pollinators. When native species with staggered bloom times are used in pollinator-friendly plantings, it provides sustenance for a variety of species throughout the season.
These pollinator-friendly spaces provide sweeping benefits to ecosystems. Beyond boosting pollinator habitats, these plants prevent soil erosion, support green infrastructure, increase carbon sequestration and advance food security.
Evaluating and mitigating the impact of a project on environmental resources is a key step for every project, large or small.