Posted on November 28, 2011

Wildlife Habitat Council Recognizes PG&E for Habitat Improvement Projects

By Tracy Correa

PG&E is celebrating two prestigious awards given at the Wildlife Habitat Council’s 23rd Annual Symposium in Baltimore, Md. this month (Nov. 15), recognition that further solidifies the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

The company was awarded Rookie Project of the Year for spearheading an effort to restore habitat at Antioch Dunes in eastern Contra Costa County to benefit the endangered Lange’s metalmark butterfly. PG&E and its volunteers helped remove invasive, non-native vegetation that had taken over the area and reintroduced suitable host plants for the butterfly.

Pleasant Creek

A tree swallow comes in for a landing on a bird box, one of several at the Pleasant Creek Gas Storage site in Winters. (Photos by Lewis Stewart.)

In addition, PG&E celebrated the Community Partner of the Year award co-won by Audubon California’s Landowner Stewardship Program and the Center for Land-Based Learning. PG&E submitted the nomination for our partners for restoring riparian (riverbank-dwelling), oak woodland and grassland habitat at PG&E’s facility in Pleasant Creek in Yolo County.

Peter Beesley, senior environmental specialist with PG&E, said it’s rewarding to see the company’s ongoing work praised by the respected Wildlife Habitat Council.

“It’s more than just a year’s worth of effort. … And now, it’s being recognized,” said Beesley, adding that the projects have been ongoing for several years and supported by multiple departments.

Valerie Calegari, director of Audubon California’s Landowner Stewardship Program, said PG&E is setting the standard for other companies and deserves recognition.

“I think PG&E is leading the way for businesses to take responsibility for the property they own,” said Calegari. “I think it’s fantastic. They are an industry leader.”

“We are really impressed with their dedication,” she said, adding that she looks for more opportunities to work with PG&E.

The awards were a surprise, said Beesley. PG&E went into the symposium hoping to receive certification on three of its Wildlife at Work projects – Antioch Dunes, Pleasant Creek and Tulare Hill. “We wanted to obtain the certification and we got extra recognition,” he said.

The Wildlife Habitat Council certification is a coveted designation. There are strict criteria and it’s only awarded to sites that meet certain requirements and to programs that have been active at least one year. All three of the projects submitted by PG&E earned the certification.

Here’s a look at the three projects:

Antioch Dunes: Helping Butterflies Return

PG&E owns and manages 12 acres of property adjacent to the refuge — two 6-acre parcels that contain towers that carry transmission lines throughout eastern Contra Costa County.

Pleasant Creek

Audubon wildlife technician Karen Velas checks a bird box for signs of nesting with PG&E senior environmental specialist Peter Beesley.

As part of a cooperative Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, PG&E worked with the Service to manage company property in ways that benefit the recovery of native species. PG&E removed invasive weeds through a combination of employee volunteer work and the targeted application of herbicides. As a result, invasive weed cover at the site has been reduced, making the property more suitable for replanting the host plant for the endangered Lange’s metalmark butterfly.

PG&E is also helping monitor the recovery of the butterfly, and improve habitat for both the rare Contra Costa wallflower and Antioch Dunes evening primrose which have both increased in population.

The entire effort allows PG&E to safely maintain and operate transmission lines while enhancing habitat for the sensitive species that call the area home.

Pleasant Creek: Restoring a Riverbank

PG&E is providing access to Audubon California’s Landowner Stewardship Program so that it can restore a portion of riparian (riverbank-dwelling) habitat at the company’s Pleasant Creek Underground Gas Storage Facility near the city of Winters in Yolo County. The area encompasses an important tributary to Putah Creek, called the East Fork Dry Creek. The restoration is designed to stabilize the banks of East Fork Dry Creek to prevent erosion, thus improving the habitat for the area wildlife and plant species.

The restoration site in Yolo County also serves as an outdoor classroom for local middle and high school students as part of a hands-on environmental educational program run by the Center for Land-Based Learning.

Through vegetation and native perennial grassland restoration, Audubon California hopes to increase habitat available to various species found on the area, including more than 100 types of birds. PG&E also provided Audubon California with a $90,000 grant to support the restoration of Bobcat Ranch, a 6,800-acre Blue Oak woodland northwest of Winters.

Tulare Hill: Eliminating Non-native Plants

Tulare Hill is 45-acre parcel of land with a critical power line corridor consisting of five transmission lines in Santa Clara County. The area is also home to the endangered Bay checkerspot butterfly and other rare plants.

The area was historically grazed until 2001, when an adjacent land owner put in a fence to separate its property from PG&E’s as well as property managed by the Silicon Valley Land Conservancy.

The halted grazing contributed to the proliferation of non-native grass, which is believed to have choked out the native forbs and nectar species necessary for the butterfly to flourish. A strategic grazing program was initiated in 2008 in partnership with the Silicon Valley Land Conservancy in hopes of eradicating the non-native plants and allowing the dwarf plantain, Santa Clara Valley Dudleya and Metcalf Canyon jewelflower more opportunity to grow. Reintroduction of the butterfly is expected to follow.

In October, Anthony F. Earley Jr., PG&E’s new chairman, CEO and president, stressed the company’s commitment to environmental leadership at a ceremony honoring employees for exceptional examples of environmental and sustainability-related work in the past year.

“We should never think that environmental leadership is one thing and our basic business operations are another,” Earley said. “Environmental excellence is an integral part of our basic business.”

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