Power Lines May Make a New Kind of Buzz—As Home for Bees

December 14, 2005

If Kimberly Russell's vision pans out, the millions of acres of land that lie under electric power lines across the United States will come to life with the buzz of busy bees.

Russell studies insects and spiders at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Her research shows that bees take refuge under power lines when utility companies allow the land there to grow shrubs and flowers.

"When [areas under power lines] do that over a period of years, they get to the point where they have really nice scrubby habitat—a lot of short tress, shrubs, and little grassy areas—generally speaking, vegetation that … tends to be good for bees," she said.

For decades, however, utility companies have preferred to keep the land beneath their power lines trimmed to prevent vegetation from interfering with the delivery of electricity.

"In the past we'd come in every four to five years and mow it wall-to-wall, and we would just have very little discretion about what we were mowing," said Paul Sellers, senior arborist with Nstar, a utility company in Boston, Massachusetts.

Russell hopes to convince utilities to manage their power-line corridors, which crisscross the U.S. for thousands of miles, to allow for both uninterrupted delivery of electricity and healthy habitat for native bees.

Sellers Nstar has been developing a similar program over the past four years. Letting bee habitats grow, he added, makes sense not only for wildlife but also for the company's bottom line.

"Once we can maintain more healthy diversity of plant species in the right-of-way, it actually requires less maintenance on our part. To a degree it becomes self-sustaining," he said.

Refuge Study

Russell and her colleagues discovered the benefits of scrubby habitat for bees while doing research at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.

A utility company there struck a deal to run two power lines through the property as long as it kept the impact to a minimum. The company allowed low-lying vegetation to grow under the lines.

Within a few years the power-line corridors were full of short trees and shrubs that tend to be excellent habitat for bees, Russell said.

Continued on Next Page >>




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