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How City Light practices ecological stewardship in landscaping: Bees and trees, as well as fields of green

How City Light practices ecological stewardship in landscaping: Bees and trees, as well as fields of green

Bees, trees, and fields of green: How City Light practices environmental stewardship in landscaping
Garden of small yellow and blue flowers with a sign that reads
Pollinator garden at Seattle City Light’s Magnolia Substation (photo credit: Christina Orrino)

Seattle City Lights Landscapes Team, part the Vegetation ManagementThe group is responsible to maintain the landscaping on more that 55 City Light properties. This small but powerful team of six puts City Lights’ value of Environmental Stewardship into action every day as they work together to make City Light spaces beautiful and beneficial to the natural world.

The Landscapes Team transformed the grounds of three utility-owned spaces in order to foster sustainable habitats for pollinators since 2018. The typical landscaping process requires large amounts of water and chemicals to achieve the urban aesthetics that the public is used too. Many of these chemicals can cause harm to our environment and our waterways. Also, solid grass lawns contribute little to biodiversity.

City Lights Landscapes Team instead has installed examples of eco-turf on a few utility substation properties. They are actively working to educate people about the dangers of conventional landscaping. “City Light’s Landscapes Team is a small group of environmentally conscientiousprofessionals who are working to shift the paradigmof conventional landscaping culture in theirdaily work practices,” explains Landscapes Supervisor Christina Orrino. “We incorporate best management practices, habitat conservation, and sustainabilityfor the benefitof the community and the environment.”

Here are some examples of City Lights Landscapes’ and South Right of Way team’s efforts to promote environmental health on our properties:

Conservation Mowing for the Chief Sealth Trail

Close-up of a Savannah Sparrow on a branch
Savannah Sparrow on the Chief Sealth Trail (photo credit to Ed Newbold).

The South Right of Way Team maintains the land below our transmission lines. The team decided to reduce mowing on the popular, 4.5 mile Chief Sealth trail in order to preserve important features that make up the natural habitat for the animals that live there. The Conservation Mowing Pilot Program designated this area so that it would not be mowed during the primary bird-nesting season, mid-April to end of July. This method has been proven effective for pollinator and bird habitats. A local resident even reported seeing migratory Savannah Sparrows along the trail in 2020. Their presence is believed due to the mowing change that has improved the habitat for the species. The Right of Way Team plans on continuing the practice of conservation mowing in this area.

The Creston-Nelson Substation Site has a new lease of life

Creston-Nelson Substation's previous yard with dead yellow plants and a bare lawn
Creston-Nelson Substation (photo credit to Christina Orrino).
Current Creston-Nelson Substation grounds with bright shrubs and flowers
Creston-Nelson Substation after (photo credit to Christina Orrino).

The landscape suffered some damage from a ground mat replacement on the Creston–Nelson Substation’s southern side. Ground mats of wire mesh extend out from the substation walls, and deep beneath the landscape to provide grounding for the station. This caused damage to several trees and perennials. The City Light team came in to save the land and worked on its restoration. Our gardeners made amends to the soil with compost and set up a variety of plants that are suitable for pollinators.

Nearby is the nonprofit Common Acre, where City Light Arboriculturist Heidi Asplund has provided ongoing support. The Green LineA community stewardship initiative is taking place in the City Lights transmission corridor at upper Rainier Beach. The Green Line, which was formerly occupied primarily by invasive weeds has been reimagined as an open space for the community that is safe to use and enjoy. Duwamish Alive! has held events over time to get residents involved. At the Community Tree Planting in fall 2019, volunteers planted 20 pollinator-attracting Cascara trees.

Duwamish Substation gets a facelift

Torn up yard with cut down trees at the Duwamish Substation
Duwamish Substation (photo credit to Christina Orrino).
Duwamish Substation grounds planted with green, yellow and purple plants and shrubs
After Duwamish Substation (photo credit: Christina Orrino

The Duwamish Substation landscape was once overgrown with blackberry bushes and ivy. Contractors were about to install a security fence but accidentally cut down several healthy trees. The Landscapes team installed a new irrigation system at the site. They also planted larger trees to replace those that had been removed, as well as perennials and other pollinator-friendly plant species. This location is located in an industrial area but receives a lot foot traffic, including dog walkers, general pedestrians, and bird watchers. This site now has a beautifully landscaped area to enjoy. Crew members at the substation praise the bright colors, environmental improvement, and their work. Community members are also delighted with the space. One person said that they drive this way just to admire the flowers.

See Also

Transformation at the Magnolia Substation Site

Magnolia Substation undergoing exterior restorations
Magnolia Substation during renovation (photo credit: Christina Orrino)
The completed pollinator garden at Magnolia Substation, including tall grass and flowering shrubs
Magnolia Substation after (photo credit to Christina Orrino).

The Magnolia Substation, which was decommissioned in 2000, needed some upgrades. The site was cleaned up by the City Lights Environmental group to remove soil contaminants. The Landscapes group completed the restoration which included an irrigation system, ecoturf seeding and garden beds. This location now has a variety of perennials, shrubs, wildflowers, and shrubs. To enhance the site, the team planted several trees, including three Eddies White Wonder species to take over the old crabapple trees. The team planted 11 Dawn Redwoods along the street, which was exciting as this species is rarely seen in the city. Although the cherry trees planted by the couple did not survive, they were still being used to provide habitat for local wildlife and to preserve the landscape.

This location was occupied from June 2021 through early 2020. Due to the pandemic, there was a temporary hold on the work. The community surrounding the site was eagerly awaiting the completion of the project.

The Work ahead

The City Lights Landscapes team is able to restore spaces that have been damaged by nature or man-made causes. The restoration of these sites after environmental disturbances has many key benefits. These include a better habitat, higher water conservation, lower gas emission from excessive maintenance, increased benefit for the surrounding community, as well as steps towards reducing the utility’s carbon footprint. The projects provided ample opportunities for education and engagement of residents, as well as positive feedback from both residents and customers.

The Landscapes team will continue monitoring the vegetation at these locations and is looking forward to implementing eco-turf practices at further City Light properties. Stop by and enjoy the flowers if you’re in the neighborhood!

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