Xcel Energy has a long history of addressing wildlife protection, including avian protection, land restoration and fish management. We recognize our operations can impact wildlife and important habitat, so we take extra steps to protect these special resources.
Xcel Energy’s Vegetation Management department manages millions of trees across almost 46,000 miles of distribution right-of-way (ROW) and 16,600 miles of transmission ROW throughout our service territory.
The department uses industry best practices such as integrated vegetation management. Integrated vegetation management encompasses a progressive system of information gathering and assists the department with developing compliant solutions to vegetation control near electric and natural gas facilities. The practice focuses on achieving such ends in an environmentally sensitive, socially responsible and cost-effective manner.
In addition, pruning methods comply with standards set by the American National Standards Institute and the Tree Care Industry Association, which are endorsed by the International Society of Arboriculture.
Our practices seek to balance our customers’ need for reliable energy while respecting the natural environment that surrounds our facilities. For example, we work with landowners to determine if trees and other vegetation can be deemed compatible with safe operation of our electric lines.
In our efforts to comply with governmental regulation and to better ensure electric system reliability, our transmission line vegetation management program emphasizes the removal of incompatible vegetation to promote long-term vegetation control and sustainability. In many cases, this means removing trees in areas where trees had been pruned in the past.
We employ manual and mechanized clearing where the vegetation is too tall for herbicide applications. When necessary, our contractors apply herbicides that are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the appropriate state regulatory agency. The herbicides are applied by licensed applicators.
We have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop avian protection plans for our service areas and to address avian issues related to our facilities. The focus of this work is distribution facilities, primarily distribution lines. However, there may be some work to address potential collision issues on transmission lines and potential electrocution issues at distribution and transmission substations.
Each of our operating companies has developed and maintains a comprehensive Avian Protection Plan (APP) for its facilities. The following work is included in each APP, which is provided to the USFWS:
- Identification of high-risk areas for raptor electrocutions and bird collisions
- Review of existing raptor electrocution and bird collision mitigating procedures and standards
- Review of existing power lines for raptor protection and collision risks
- Inventory of problem power lines and recommended mitigation
- Recommendations for retrofitting facilities
In addition, we have trained personnel who may need to handle birds or report incidences. Posters and an identification card provide information on the most common birds in our service areas. We have provided these to field crews, along with the appropriate permits and other information in case they find a bird that has been injured.
The National Wild Turkey Federation certified Xcel Energy for its Energy for Wildlife Program that seeks to enhance wildlife habitat on utility company owned or managed lands. Learn more about the program.
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation Agreement
Xcel Energy has voluntarily entered into a conservation agreement with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) pursuant to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan to mitigate impacts to this species of prairie grouse in areas where we operate. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species on March 27, 2014 due to the rapid decline in its population over the past 15 years.
Range lands in our New Mexico, Texas and Colorado service territories serve as important habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, and under the conservation agreement, Xcel Energy will implement conservation measures that help protect this habitat. The company paid an enrollment fee of $60,000, and will pay future mitigation fees based on anticipated development activities. We also agreed to follow avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures during operation, maintenance and new construction activities. These measures may include burying distribution lines within a certain distance of active breeding areas and using mono-pole construction in certain lesser prairie-chicken habitat areas. The goal of the WAFWA conservation plan is to increase the population of the species from about 17,000 birds currently to 67,000 birds across the range states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Xcel Energy has installed web-based cameras in nest boxes at our generating plants to help increase awareness for conservation efforts. Our nine bird cams feature six different species: bald eagles, great horned owls, herons, kestrels, osprey and peregrine falcons.
Tyrone Property Restoration
Xcel Energy originally acquired the 4,400-acre Tyrone property in Dunn County, Wis., in the 1960s and 1970s as a potential nuclear generating plant site. The plant was never built, and for more than four decades the land became home to permanent tree stands and trash sites. Areas of the property also were eroded and rutted from unauthorized off-road vehicle use.
In 2008, following a detailed field inspection of the property, Xcel Energy crews cleaned up trash sites and posted signs to keep motorized vehicles off the property. Our ongoing activities have included converting existing agricultural lands into prairie and forest, harvesting timber to promote regeneration, planting trees and monitoring grassland birds to determine if restoration practices are increasing bird nesting population.
With help from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and nonprofit conservation organizations, we have worked to restore areas of the property into five kinds of land: oak savanna, floodplain savanna, sand blow prairie, dry sand prairie and goat prairie. Of the four kinds of prairie communities at Tyrone, sand barrens and floodplain savanna are considered globally rare.
In 2007, there were only 32 acres of managed prairie at Tyrone. Since then, Xcel Energy has established more than 1,000 acres of different types of prairie.