Researching human impacts on native ecosystems

Recognizing the unique habitat of power line rights-of-way (ROW) areas, Delmarva Power and CWH partnered for more than 15 years in an ongoing research project to determine the effects of clearing, access, and maintenance methods on plants and wildlife in powerline ROWs throughout the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

In 2005, Delmarva Power and CWH continued several long- and short-term studies of plant succession in ROWs in and near the New Jersey Pine Barrens. In partnership with Delmarva Power, CWH’s Agricultural Wildlife Ecologist, Robin Haggie, compared several herbicide-treated ROWs adjacent to the Pine Barrens with mechanically cut ones within the Pine Barrens. Mechanical cutting is particularly damaging to sensitive wetland ecosystems and is indiscriminate in its timing and mode of operation. Many slow-moving wildlife species, such as turtles and snakes, are killed by rotary mowers and brush axes. In addition, this method destroys plant food species for many insects as well as nesting cover for birds. Using selective herbicides can spot-treat escaped target species, modifying the plant community slowly without the often catastrophic effect of mechanical cutting.

The data from these studies will endeavor to show that a well-planned and carefully thought out management plan using IVM (Integrated vegetation management) can have great applicability in utility ROW management, keeping wildlife and their habitat in mind as a foremost objective.