Cooperative effort plants thousands of trees near Harmony Lake

Mercer County Soil Conservation District, North Dakota Game and Fish, and Basin Electric work together to find a spot for tree and bushes as part of the AVS-to-Neset 345-kilovolt transmission line project mitigation.

Western meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds, mule deer, Canada geese, a bee, a butterfly, mosquitoes. All bear witness to new life in their home territory.

A tractor putters along, while a plow behind cuts a slice in the ground to make space for two people, seated on either side, to place trees and bushes by hand, one by one, in a mechanical, efficient motion, by the thousands near Harmony Lake in Mercer County, North Dakota. Watch the video to see the process.

The work is done through a cooperative effort, between the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the Mercer County Soil Conservation District, and Basin Electric.

Sarah Tunge and Brian Kern of Mercer County Soil Conservation District planting trees in a shallow trench.

Over a three year period, Basin Electric built a 345-kilovolt transmission line across western North Dakota, called the AVS-to-Neset transmission project. Throughout the process, Basin Electric crews kept track of how many trees and bushes were removed, according to Cris Miller, Basin Electric senior environmental service administrator. “The tree and shrub planting effort is part of the mitigation we do, to meet the North Dakota Public Service Commission’s siting requirements,” Miller says. “The landowners who were directly affected by the project have the opportunity to replant trees and shrubs on a 2:1 basis. But we typically need to plant more trees than the private landowners are willing to take on. So we reached out to the various agencies of the state, city, counties, including park boards in the impacted counties to identify tree and shrub planting opportunities. Our criteria for a project is to plant trees in areas that provide benefits to the environment, wildlife, as well as to the public. When we plant in wildlife management areas, we accomplish just that.”

Between the Harmony Lake tree planting, and another in the north Beulah Mine Hills, Basin Electric is planting 4,700 trees and bushes this year as mitigation for the AVS-to-Neset transmission line project in Mercer County. The native species planted include chokecherries, plums, burr oak, buffalo berries, and more. The species are selected for their hardiness for the soil and moisture conditions present, and for the benefits they will provide to local wildlife.

One of 4,700 trees and bushes planted May 23 near Harmony Lake in Mercer County.

Sarah Tunge, Mercer County Soil Conservation District manager, says the May 23 planting at Harmony Lake was focused on wildlife habitat. “You’ll see a lot of smaller shrubs, denser planting to provide food source and shelter for animals,” she says. “We worked with North Dakota Game and Fish on this one to provide the most benefit. We looked at water sources and other habitat in the area … deer, grassland birds, pheasants, song birds of all types, pollinators, are all going to use this new habitat. This has a pretty wide-reaching benefit to wildlife in Mercer County.”

Arvid Anderson, North Dakota Game and Fish wildlife resource biologist, says the Harmony Lake wildlife management area was a good choice to hide some spoil piles, in addition to the benefit seen by wildlife. “Spoil piles were created by outdated mining practices. You see them in the Mercer County area quite a bit. Wildlife actually like the spoil pile areas, so these trees will add to their habitat, and they will make a snow trip to keep the snow from filling in those spoil piles,” he says. “It makes for better aesthetics for the public driving by, as well. Because Basin Electric pays to have these trees planted, and Mercer County does the work, it helps extend our budget to work on other projects, too.”

Basin Electric will continue tree and shrub mitigation work for the AVS-to-Neset transmission line project into 2019.

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