Amy Greene Environmental experts perform rare plant species surveys for a Northeast U.S. utility to ensure the utility maintains compliance with its New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and Flood Hazard Area Control Act permits.
A Northeast U.S. utility operates and manages over 5,000 electric transmission line rights-of-way (ROW) spans covering over 1,400 circuit miles in New Jersey. Vegetation management within electrical transmission line ROWs creates disturbances that sometimes favor certain rare, threatened, or endangered (RTE) plant species that thrive on these ecosystem disturbances. Where electrical transmission line ROWs coincide with RTE plant species, integrated vegetation management (IVM) activities are regulated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) pursuant to the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act (N.J.A.C. 7:7A) and New Jersey Flood Hazard Area Control Act (N.J.A.C. 7:13).
In 2016, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection - Office of Natural Lands Management (NJDEP-ONLM) identified 42 of the utility’s electrical transmission line ROW spans that coincided with known records of RTE plant species. Until the RTE species occurrences could be precisely mapped, herbicide treatments were prohibited throughout the entirety of these ROW spans.
Amy Greene Environmental (AGE), a Davey company, prepared a rare plant management protocol for the utility’s Vegetation Management practices. The protocol called for qualified botanists to survey the entirety of each span where RTE species were reported. If present, the extent of each species would be located with a GPS. RTE plant locations would then be used to establish a rare plant protection area polygon, which included an NJDEP stipulated 100-foot buffer. Herbicide use would be prohibited only within the rare plant protection area allowing permitted herbicide treatments throughout the remainder of the span. Finally, the protocol called for rare plant protection areas to be flagged in the field prior to herbicide application within the respective spans.
Beginning in 2017, AGE was assigned the task of surveying for 27 separate target RTE species reported among 21 of the utility’s 42 ROW spans where rare plants were reported. During surveys, AGE botanists verified the presence or absence of the 27 reported species within the spans where they were reported. When present, AGE mapped the extent of each RTE species occurrence using a high-accuracy GPS unit and established rare plant protection areas for the utility’s vegetation management crews to follow.
Following consultation with the NJDEP-Division of Land Use Regulation (DLUR), in which the rare plant survey protocol and survey results were reviewed, the utility’s Vegetation Maintenance herbicide treatments are no longer curtailed span-wide, but rather only within the rare plant protection areas. Thus, the rare plant management protocol has enabled the utility’s IVM plan to operate more cost-effectively within the vicinity of rare plants and bolstered its credibility with regulators.