Monday, June 18, 2012

Poison Along the Powerline

After our paddle on the Hudson on Saturday, I stopped off at Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park, hoping to find Wood Lilies blooming along the powerline that cuts across the top of the pond.  But instead of wide swaths of rich greenery studded with bright orange lilies, this is the blighted sight that met my horrified eyes.

Compared to that vision of desolation pictured above, this is what the same habitat looked like just a year ago, with Blackberries and Sweet Fern providing a lush green foil for the lilies' vivid explosions of orange.

Under another section of powerline nearby, it was Hay-scented Fern that provided the lush greenery last year.

But this year, the whole powerline right-of-way has been turned into a desert of dead and dying plants that have been sprayed with herbicide, evidently applied in the last few weeks, after the trailside plants and adjacent shrubs had already put out their leaves.

Happily, a few plants seem to have been spared a deadly dose of the poison.  One of the few remaining Hazelnut shrubs had actually managed to form fruit clusters.  Look closely and you can see that a similarly-colored caterpillar had found a snug shelter in one of the clusters.

As I hurried to the site where I knew Blunt-leaved Milkweed should be blooming, I breathed a sigh of relief when I spied its deep-pink, very fragrant flowers.

Near where the milkweed was growing, a flower-laden shrub of New Jersey Tea also appeared to have escaped destruction.  

 Since this shrub, as well as the milkweed and surviving Hazelnut, lie directly above the north end of Mud Pond, I wonder if this limited area was spared from spraying, for fear of poisoning the water plants with runoff containing herbicide.  What a disaster it would be if the wonderful variety of Water Lilies and Water Smartweed, Bladderworts and Cattails and many other plants that make up the pond's ecology were to be wiped out.  Obviously, it's not only the plants that would suffer.

I hope the herbicide residues that remain in the soil do not spell harm to the eggs this Mama Painted Turtle was laying on Saturday afternoon.

I did find a very few Wood Lilies struggling to bloom amid the blight, their flowers almost as full and bright as ever, but their foliage severely stunted.   In the same stretch of right-of-way where I counted over 85 lilies last year, I could find only 5 on Saturday.

 Can this spraying of herbicide really be the only economical way to keep powerlines free of plant growth that could entangle wires or impede maintenance of utility poles?  I certainly hope not.  These open areas under power lines serve as an alternative habitat for many plants that in other eras would have thrived in clearings created by forest fires.  We don't let fires clear forests anymore, so these powerline clearcuts are some of the only places certain plants like these beautiful lilies can find a home.


threecollie said...

In some states they hire folks with border collies and goats to graze down the excess vegetation. Seems like a nice idea all around, although of course the plants would still be impacted.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

threecollie, that sounds like a great solution, especially if the goats are brought in after frost, when the plants have finished their reproduction processes. That way, the woody plants could be grazed without harming the herbaceous ones.

Brent Kryda said...

We have been having quite the issue with this in SE Michigan lately. Here, however, they are not content simply to spray and trim, but to cut back as much as a dozen yards from the line. Trees and everything more than grass is just plowed away indiscriminately, and it has blighted our roadsides and rural lands.

squirrel said...

What a shame. I know butterflies and other species use the powerline lanes for travel and often they are some of the few places to find native plants. I hope they do recover.

jimbo said...

maybe the people in charge of public land should allow a lumber company to make clear cuts in certain areas. the only way to really do it i tihnk is to have it be on protected land

hikeagiant2 said...

why oh why? I love the idea of goats! or sheep! of course it id somewhat different circumstance, but having just spent days hiking moor and fell in England, the sheep are an integral part of wild landscape maintenance. Of course there was not a power line in sight ... it seems, so often, the policy here is to 'slash and burn' - let's hear it for solutions that are kinder to natural habitats. oops! looks like I got on my soap box! '-)