UMass assessment suggests varying impact of pipeline construction on natural resources



Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Northeast Energy Direct project proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. in some cases may benefit certain species but could cause significant harm to others.

Scott Jackson, associate professor of wetlands and wildlife conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has developed a Natural Resource Assessment report, outlining core habitats susceptible to harm from the installation of a pipeline and compressor station.

The report includes research conducted by students and professors within the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment as well as data produced from the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in a BioMap report. Jackson said the goal is to determine land conservation practices and ensure the safety of rare species within certain land plots.

“The first and second generation was done years ago and completed long before the Kinder Morgan proposal came forward,” Jackson said. “In the assessment that UMass did, we looked at the BioMap and other data that exists on natural resources and just compiled summary statistics of natural resources that fall within the proposed route of the pipeline.”

He said it is challenging to examine the entire pipeline route — planned to cross through Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight towns in Franklin County — and recommend a solution that would benefit each living organism. Every land area, whether it is a few acres or a few hundred acres, must be researched extensively and once completed, the entire route can be analyzed for positive and negative impacts.

“In addition to protecting these core areas, you have to protect the larger landscape they are embedded in,” he said. “This way, by protecting the core areas and critical landscape around it that supports these areas, that’s the best way to protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity.”

Jackson added that deforestation impacts bird and insect habitats as well as human life. Heavy tree weight could disturb a pipeline sitting underneath, so it is highly unlikely that a forest will be restored along the route to its natural state after the construction process begins.

“They don’t want trees growing above the pipeline because it could compromise the safety of the pipeline,” he said. “In any given piece of land, you have to see what are the species you are most concerned about, and what impacts the pipeline could have and mitigation required to make sure those impacts are small or in some cases, perhaps, could be favorable to certain species.”

Pollinators, such as honey bees and butterflies, could benefit from construction if land is restored to a shrubbery habitat. But at the same time, that means other organisms requiring a thick forested or wetland area would have limited access to certain food sources and habitat required to sustain life.

“There are other ways the pipeline could be managed if they just create a lawn where it is going to have minimal benefits for wildlife and the impacts could be largely negative,” Jackson said. “Until we know what it is they are proposing and the nature of the habitats and characteristics of the habitats that will be crossed, it’s hard to know definitively.”

Which species has the highest threat from deforestation?

Jackson said birds, even though they can fly out of the area pretty easily, are highly sensitive to land fragmentation. Cowbirds, blue jays and crows, for example, live alongside the edge of a forest, but need to keep their distance from predators deeper in the trees.

When you break up large blocks of forests into smaller and smaller pieces, there’s far less distance between these birds and predators, he said. “There could be very significant negative consequences for these birds even if they aren’t killed by these projects.”

Animals, plants and insects will be impacted. The severity of the impact depends on what the species require for a healthy life. Jackson said a 40-year-old pipeline proved to be a great landscape for a fern’s roots, but that would not be the case for all species.

“I’ve seen places where an old pipeline has been in place for decades and a rare fern was growing beautifully inside the pipeline corridor,” he said. “A lot depends on how the pipeline corridor is managed after the pipeline has been constructed. If there are no requirements to mitigate the impacts on habitat, it could all look like a golf course fairway and will have limited value for wildlife.”

The report is available online at http://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/research-reports/pipeline_natural_resources_assessment_mainline_april_2015.pdf.


 


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