Federal Land Strategies

Historically many electric and gas utilities have struggled to consistently execute accepted industry best-practice for utility vegetation management (UVM) on federal lands (e.g., integrated vegetation management or IVM). A complex web of sometimes conflicting federal policies and laws can hamper the ability of utilities and federal land managers to meet the expectations of the American people (e.g., FERC/NERC electric reliability standard FAC-003 and National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA requirements)

More specifically, utilities are facing increasingly complex challenges related to the permitting of new facilities, renewing expired permits for existing facilities and managing vegetation in existing rights of way (ROW), including emergency response. In addition, specific requirements related to threatened & endangered species, species of concern, avian protection, and preservation of archaeological & historical sites must be satisfied.

Electric utilities have the obligation to provide safe, reliable electric service and to maintain their facilities to the highest degrees of care. Electric transmission and distribution and gas infrastructure are considered critical infrastructure and are foundational to national security, health and welfare.

Federal land management organizations have the duty to care for the land and serve the people. These agencies are decentralized organizationally, which by design allow and encourage great autonomy at the field level (e.g., USFS forests and districts). This is understandable as vegetation and forest management are very site specific activities. Although this model enables effective vegetation prescriptions to be formulated considering local requirements, in many cases these plans are missing higher-level components critical to both utilities and federal agencies to best ensure all of the nation’s expectations are met in a cost-effective manner.

Declining forest health throughout the west has increased the risk to both utilities and federal lands managers over the last decade. The prevention and protection of assets from wildfire has become a priority of both stakeholders. The frequency and severity of wildfire is predicted to increase. For example, prior to 2000, rarely were more than 3 million acres of land impacted by wildfire annually; today that number has climbed to approximately 9-10 million acres.

There are some excellent localized examples of utilities, federal land managers, special interest groups and other stakeholders working together to develop sustainable, environmentally sound land management practices on and adjacent to electric utility corridors. However, previous attempts at holistic solutions or governance at the national level (e.g., 2006 Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, between the utility industry and federal land managers) have been largely ineffective.

We believe a paradigm shift is long overdue that will change the perception of utility facilities on federal lands from a liability to a beneficial asset (e.g., wildfire break, biodiversity, invasive species control, enhanced wildlife and pollinator habitat, emergency access, etc.). We believe great opportunity exists to improve efficiencies, reduce frustration and cost, better ensure compliance and improve the stewardship of public lands across the national landscape.