Nick Johnson, environmental protection specialist, is leading an effort to incorporate spatial analysis of the viability of pollinator habitat within BPA rights-of-way and facilities.

Projects like Johnson's help natural resource managers locate sensitive areas in advance, which help minimize unplanned changes in management actions and streamline permitting requirements.

In 2016, the Washington State Department of Transportation developed a pollinator habitat model that ranked land adjacent to their highways based on the ability to provide suitable habitat for native pollinator species. As part of his master degree thesis, environmental protection specialist Nick Johnson developed a similar model for BPA, sourcing inspiration from WSDOT protocols. 

Johnson developed the BPA pollinator model using nine major categories of environmental data, such as current vegetation type, proximity to areas of high conservation value and areas close to pollinator- dependent agriculture. Results displayed several habitat values, low, medium and high for pollinator populations within BPA's rights-of-way and facilities in Washington. 

As a former natural resource specialist with Transmission's vegetation management team, Johnson has extensive experience in how valuable spatial data can be for managing vegetation on ROWs and facilities throughout BPA's service territory, as the success of BPA's land management programs depend heavily on geospatial data. Johnson wanted to incorporate more data analysis into his current role in Transmission Environmental Compliance and began exploring the idea of using geospatial-modeling techniques across BPA's service territory to ensure regulatory compliance with various environmental laws while promoting biodiversity around BPA's assets. 

As proof of concept, Johnson's project initially looked at BPA ROWs in Washington to determine the usefulness and practicality of the spatial data to preserve and/or improve pollinator habitat. The analysis revealed that about half of BPA ROWs are currently classified as potentially having medium or high value as habitat for pollinator species. Additionally, the project looked at monarch butterfly habitat because the insect is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The monarch habitat analysis showed that BPA could expect significant ESA permitting requirements for maintenance and capital projects as 40-70% of BPA ROWs in Washington alone could support Monarch butterflies. 

Monarch populations, like many other pollinator species, are suffering due to habitat fragmentation, overuse of pesticides and monoculture land management. The good news is that many of BPA’s vegetation management methods pose little or no harm to pollinator species, provided appropriate timing and application of methods are followed.

Projects like Johnson's help natural resource managers locate sensitive areas in advance, which help minimize unplanned changes in management actions and streamline permitting requirements. The lessons learned from this project are relevant for other imperiled species that may become protected under the ESA in the future, such as Crotch's bumblebee, western bumblebee, Suckley cuckoo bumblebee and Franklin's bumblebee.      

Johnson is currently working on expanding the model to BPA's entire service area. This data can be very useful for streamlining environmental compliance reviews for BPA projects and focusing pollinator conservation efforts to the most suitable locations. This data also adds value in developing and maintaining regional programmatic ESA consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in turn could reduce the lead-time for BPA project permitting. Additionally, a pollinator habitat ranking could help BPA maintain its existing ROW stewardship accreditation and future Bee Better Certification once that process is finalized.

Johnson is an active member in BPA's Pollinator Workgroup and Electric Power Research Institute's Power-in-Pollinator Initiative. He is evaluating EPRI's recent release of a monarch model that is the first to project habitat for both adult and larva life stages of the butterfly. Johnson is working with an internal BPA team to study how incorporating EPRI's monarch model projections could help prepare BPA for compliance success once the pollinator receives a formal ESA listing .

Johnson obtained a Master's degree in Environmental Science from the University of Idaho in December 2022.        

Related News