The Tennessee Valley Authority Cumberland Plateau Rights-of-Way Project

The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI) team is working closely with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Electric Power Research Institute, and the Mississippi Entomological Museum to survey the flora and pollinator communities of 15 powerline right-of-way grasslands on the Cumberland Plateau. While many of these grasslands have been converted to pastures, pine plantations, or other human uses, others have been lost to encroaching forests in the absence of periodic natural disturbances like fire and the grazing and browsing of large native herbivores (most recently bison and elk) that once helped to keep them open.

However, sun-loving plant species, and some of the animals that depend on them, have hung on in pockets of infrequently mowed open habitats such as native hay meadows, rural roadsides, and especially utility rights-of-way (ROWs). This study consists of a series of paired plots, one set situated in an open ROW and the other set 200 meters off the ROW in adjacent wooded habitat.

Anyone can see that the ROW plots are more biologically diverse than the forested ones, but the presence of sun-loving species in the shady wooded understory tells of both the site’s grassland heritage and its potential to respond to management that would restore it back to open savanna. This study will allow us to quantify by how much and in what ways. We will continue to monitor the 2019 plots this year and will add more plots to this study in 2020 and 2021. We are taking photos of many species and posting them to the iNaturalist project SGI: Cumberland Plateau Powerline Grasslands.