The Jefferson County Public Utility District was able to reduce future costs on maintaining its 12-mile-long transmission line corridor, while also fostering the health of the surrounding native plant line, thanks to partnerships with the Washington Conservation Corps and the county's Noxious Weed Board.
This spring saw six crew members work a total of 840 hours together in the corridor to remove invasive species, with another 240 hours planned for July, according to Noxious Weed Board Director Joost Besijn, who described the collaboration as “perfect timing.”
Besijn managed the project with PUD Assistant General Manager Kevin Streett in March and April, back when Streett was still acting general manager of the PUD.
“Another year, and the project would have been two or three times more difficult and expensive,” Besijn said. “This was the last possible year for us to manually pull the invasive scotch broom, and we got to it before it was able to lay down a seed bed.”
Besijn explained how scotch broom seed remains viable for 80 years, and also credited the Weed Board with removing a large patch of poison hemlock just north of the Jefferson County International Airport, to prevent it from spreading south.
“Invasive species thrive in areas where the habitat has been disturbed,” said Besijn, who went on to state the PUD's transmission corridor is, “by nature, a disturbed area,” into which a number of invasive species were able to move after the PUD last mowed the area in 2015.
“Mowing can be an effective control tool, but it's a double-edged sword,” Besijn said. “Invasives like Japanese knotweed and wild chervil can be spread by mowing. Our preferred method of control is to remove the invasives, then replant with natives, or in the case of the PUD's transmission corridor, create better conditions for existing native plants to fill in.”
According to Besijn, native plants such as snowberries, salal, roses and sword ferns already exist within the corridor, and should be helped by the removal of competing invasive species.
“Under ideal conditions, low-growing, shrubby native plants like these can provide a healthy, low-maintenance understory for the transmission corridor, reducing weed pressure and future maintenance costs for the PUD,” Jefferson County PUD Communications Manager Will O'Donnell stated.
“It's a win-win, as far as I'm concerned,” Streett said. “The PUD's priority is keeping the access clear, but we don't serve our customers as well if weeds spread up and down our right-of-way. Partnering with the Weed Board has provided us a more well-rounded approach to managing the vegetation. That corridor looks really good right now.”
Besijn, in turn, concurred with Streett.
“Working with the PUD has been a great example of how I'd like all of our partnerships with public agencies to go,” Besijn said. “They really understood their responsibility as land managers and good neighbors.”
While O'Donnell extolled the virtues of “being a good neighbor” and “developing new partnerships,” he sees the primary benefit of this project as the collaborative maintenance of a transmission corridor that he touted as benefitting both the PUD and the community it serves.
“We're not providing good service if, in the process of bringing electric power to this county, we're also spreading noxious weeds,” O'Donnell said. “Working with the Weed Board helps us keep the corridor clear, and improve habitat for native shrubs and pollinators throughout the county. That sounds like better service to me, and that's what we aim to provide.”