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Forest Service directives target transmission corridor vegetation management

DW Keefer's picture
Journalist Independent Journalist and Analyst

DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Dec 15, 2020
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The USDA Forest Service is seeking public input on two proposed directives that would address safety and reliability for powerline operations on national forests and grasslands.

The proposed directives would implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and amendments made in 2018 to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

The proposed changes would provide consistent direction for Forest Service staff when coordinating with utilities in managing vegetation, including removing dead and dying trees that pose a fire risk to powerline structures. These policy initiatives include new procedures for streamlining reviews and approvals for vegetation management and maintenance for powerlines.

Forest Service Deputy Chief Chris French said the proposed directives would help reduce wildfire risk in powerline corridors and the cost of delivering electricity to millions of homes.

For example, utility equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric was responsible for a series of California wildfires in recent years that burned across thousands of acres, destroyed hundreds of structures and resulted in dozens of injuries and fatalities. 

Operating Plans and Agreements for Powerline Facilities

This proposed directive would add Chapter 80 to Forest Service Handbook 2709.11 to provide guidance on vegetation management, routine maintenance, and inspection of powerlines within and adjacent to their authorized rights-of-way on national forests and grasslands. These activities include removing trees that pose a hazard inside and outside powerline rights-of-way.

The proposed directive would provide guidance to Forest Service staff when working with electric utilities to develop comprehensive operating plans or agreements that cover system reliability and fire mitigation activities while minimizing impacts on natural resources. The proposed directive would implement section 512 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Forest Service’s recently issued regulations implementing section 512.

Vegetation Management Pilot Projects

The proposed directive would add Chapter 2740 to the Forest Service Manual to provide direction to agency staff on issuing special use authorizations for natural gas or electric utilities to conduct vegetation management pilot projects. The pilot projects would involve vegetation management outside the utilities’ rights-of-way, but not the removal of hazard trees associated with powerlines. The proposed directive would implement section 8630 of the 2018 Farm Bill.

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