Rick Johnstone

Ecosystem Medicine

Early in my career as a utility forester, I recommended a broadcast treatment of wetland approved herbicides on a stand of red maple trees growing under a high voltage electric transmission line to stop their growth before they made contact and caused a blackout of electric service.

We followed this with a touchup selective herbicide treatment the next year, and upon my ground inspection of the results, I was surprised to find white fringed orchids (Platanthera blephariglottis) growing in place of the trees. I contacted the botanist from the State Heritage Program who came out to look himself. He told me they are finding that these rare plants can lie dormant for up to 150 years, waiting for some disturbance to control the dominant trees and allow their growth.

I subsequently learned that the native American Indian tribes of the Atlantic coastal plain used fire as a tool to drive and harvest game for the winter. This routine disturbance produced wetland meadows conducive to orchids, and in upland areas a mixture of warm season grasses and wildflowers, or what we term “prairie”. Evidently, the herbicide treatments duplicated the effects of fire, controlling the trees and allowing the dormant sunlight-loving orchids to germinate.

Another reclamation opportunity occurred in a wetland dominated by trees and the invasive giant reed grass (Phragmites australis). Phragmites grows so tall and dense, and it leaches its own herbicides called allelopathic chemicals, that it inhibits most herbaceous plants thus forming a monoculture. To document how the plant community changed, I hired a botanist from a nearby conservation organization to inventory the plant community before and after treatments. I perceived that the public would question the results if the electric company conducted the studies, so I removed that bias by hiring an outside expert. Again a broadcast herbicide treatment was prescribed followed by a selective touchup treatment the next year. The conservation botanist documented 58 different species of plants!

Rick Johnstone
Rick Johnstone
Rick Johnstone,
President and Principal IVM Partners, Inc and VMES, LLC

This habitat restoration phenomenon has been repeated throughout the United States by the non-profit corporation IVM Partners, which was launched in 2003. As president of this non-profit, I act as a liaison between electric and natural gas utilities and government agencies, conservationists and universities. On another transmission corridor we successfully spearheaded the management of vegetation into two distinct zones; low growing, early successional prairie plants in the wire zone (area directly under the electric conductors); and shrub/scrub habitat in the border zones (areas outside the wire zone to the forest edge) and in ravines. This protects reliable electric service while providing much needed prairie and shrub habitats, and without routine destructive brush mowing.

US Fish & Wildlife Service and partners at Audubon documented the birds finding 120 different species, including Prairie warbler (Setophaga discolor) and Wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) - two species under decline. US Geological Survey and university scientists documented 147 species of native bees and 40 species of butterfly!

We have now successfully restored native habitat in 1/2 the states of the Union, with support from Bayer, on electric, natural gas, and highway rights-of-way using the same prescription of herbicide treatments to kill pest plants that are keeping our ecosystems in a sickly state. Expensive landscape plantings and mowing are unnecessary, just a touchup selective herbicide treatment every few years to keep the ecosystem growing healthy.

Integrated Vegetation Management Partners Managing Ecosystems Together!
Integrated Vegetation Management Partners Managing Ecosystems Together!
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