TREE Fund grant allows right-of-way research to continue


Researchers and industry members take a look at the scrubby vegetation under the right-of-way on State Game Lands 33.

Credit: Terry Boyd

ALTOONA, Pa. -- Penn State Altoona has been awarded a grant for year one of a four-year research project from the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund. The grant will support research evaluating long-term effects of electrical right-of-way vegetation management on floral and faunal communities.

The research, led by Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Carolyn Mahan, examines how to manage vegetation beneath power lines in the best way possible to minimize environmental effects on animal and plant diversity. Over the last three years, Mahan studied birds, plant diversity, and bees on State Game Lands 33 to determine how wildlife responds to selective herbicides used to control the vegetation. This year, she will expand the research to include ground beetles to measure whether herbicides are collecting in the soil.

“There are approximately 6.2 million acres under rights of way just managed by power companies, it’s more than three times the number of acres in Yellowstone national park,” states Mahan. “That’s a lot of land and wildlife that can be affected. In the short-term, the fast and easy way to manage that land may be to go out and mow it, but our research shows that if you use selective herbicides, in about five to six years, you have a stable plant community that’s composed of shrubs and meadow plants. These plants, in turn, support many species of animals like field sparrows and native bumble bees that rely on this early successional shrub habitat.”

Mahan would like to share her research findings with industry across the nation and encourage them to become partners in conservation. She says the money from TREE Fund makes the continuation of her work easier and provides opportunities for students to participate in the cutting-edge research.

The project is conducted in cooperation with the Center for Pollinator Research and the Frost Entomological Museum in the College of Agricultural Sciences at University Park. It is sponsored by Asplundh Tree Experts, LLC; Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont; FirstEnergy Corp; and PECO Energy Company.

TREE Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in urban forestry and arboriculture. TREE Fund awards scholarships and education grants to engage and support the next generation of tree stewards and multiple research grants to improve the science, safety, and practice of arboriculture. TREE Fund has provided nearly $4 million in grants and scholarships since its inception in 2002.