The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is partnering with the Grundy Electric Cooperative on a project to benefit wildlife habitat and reduce power line right-of-way maintenance costs, according to a press release from MDC. Private property owners are also a voluntary partner. MDC’s Wires Over Wildlife (WOW) program provides expertise and cost-share money for converting overgrown brush and trees under electrical distribution lines into more productive wildlife habitat, such as food plots or native wildflowers that benefit pollinators and wildlife.

“One of the benefits I see is that the right-of-ways can provide connectivity for wildlife between habitats,” said Jason Jensen, MDC community and private land conservation chief.

The co-op is developing a pilot project in Grundy County southwest of Trenton with the help of Scott Roy, MDC private land conservationist. Grundy Electric Cooperative primarily serves Grundy, Mercer and Harrison counties, but the co-op also has members in portions of nine other counties and maintains more than 2,200 miles of distribution lines.

“This gives us an alternative way to maintaining right-of-way,” said Scott Wilson, co-op general manager. “We can turn a right-of-way into a pollinator plot or a food plot that a landowner maintains, which keeps us from having to clear brush under the lines in the future.”

Missouri’s rural electric cooperatives must keep trees out of distribution lines that carry electricity from substations to homes and businesses. According to the press release, under the voluntary WOW program, a landowner with distribution lines crossing or bordering their property will be able to request that right-of-way vegetation be converted to wildlife-friendly habitat. Native wildflowers and grasses add beauty, and they provide food and shelter for deer, turkeys, rabbits, butterflies and songbirds.

MDC will provide expertise and plans for projects. The co-op will provide cost-share funds. Landowners will also contribute to the cost-share project, including annual maintenance such as mowing or light disking.

Cattle grazing may also be a management option. Well-managed grazing by cattle reduces vegetation density and adds openness, which greatly benefits ground-nesting grassland birds such as bobwhite quail.

The WOW program can provide more wildlife for property owners while reducing co-op maintenance costs. Also, after major storms with severe winds, openness under the lines makes it easier for co-op crews to reach the lines needing repair. The WOW program is also an option for other electric cooperatives in the state.

“I think any time the co-ops can work with anyone to help our members it is a good thing,” said Caleb Jones, CEO for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “Not only will this help us save money, but it will also help wildlife.”

Members of the Grundy Electric Cooperative interested in the WOW program can contact the co-op at 1-800-279-2249. Landowners in the service area can also contact Scott Roy at Scott.Roy@mdc.mo.gov. Missouri electric co-op managers interested in WOW can contact Jason Jensen at Jason.Jensen@mdc.mo.gov.