Integrating Utility Vegetation Management and Urban Forestry: A Municipal Utility Perspective Joe Purohit, EcoLayers Inc. & Peter Gollinger, City of Palo Alto
In urban/suburban environments, most trees along electric power lines exist on streets and private properties, making them an integral part of the local and regional urban forest. In the case of municipal electric utilities, the city must now manage the often conflicting objectives of urban forestry and utility vegetation management. Urban forestry practices strive to grow large healthy trees to maximize canopy cover, environmental benefits, and ecosystem services. Utility vegetation management, on the other hand, imposes severe restrictions on trees and vegetation along power lines to minimize risks and liability exposure.
Reconciling the urban forestry and utility vegetation management objectives is further complicated due to increasing urban densities, greater fire threats due to droughts, pest infestations and climate change, resistance to tree maintenance from private property owners, restrictions on use of chemicals, and the focus on “canopy cover” by many Urban Forestry Management Plans.
The City of Palo Alto, California owns and operates its own power distribution network. The City’s Vegetation Management Department is responsible for both utility vegetation and urban forestry, which are currently managed as two separate programs, literally in separate data and functional “silos.” Any strategy seeking the convergence of these programs towards a common objective must recognize the need for a high level of “integration” between these programs. Basically, taking a holistic, systemic approach to managing the utility/urban interface at local and regional jurisdictional levels.
The proposed presentation will discuss:
- Key issues facing the City of Palo Alto in managing the utility/urban interface, current approaches, and limitations.
- Issues and objectives of “integrating” utility vegetation management and urban forestry.
- New strategies that can allow for managing utility vegetation very aggressively, while compensating for this through systematically planned and managed mitigation programs, with an accurate assessment of current and future forecasts of environmental, ecosystem services, and other benefits.
- An overview of a new class of tools and technologies to implement these strategies