In its beginning, vegetation management focused on the tree trimming needed to construct a new overhead line or to maintain line clearances. Nowadays, vegetation management consists of entire right-of-way (R/W) maintenance programs as well as traditional tree trimming. These programs include the selective use of herbicides, computerized tracking and inventory systems, specialized equipment usage and the use of professional foresters and vegetation managers. All of these have one common goal — to maintain or increase the electric utility's system reliability.

Vegetation management activities — tree-trimming and vegetation control — usually are the largest cost element in an electric utility's operating budget (tree-trimming alone is a US$7- to $10-billion business). Combine this with the fact that tree-related causes can be the source of a majority of customer interruptions, and it is plain to see that vegetation management is probably the most costly item to an electric utility.

This vegetation management special section contains articles that focus on some of today's best practices. For example, Chris Asplundh Sr. of Asplundh Tree Experts outlines the past, present and future of vegetation management; Gary O'Neill of American Electric Power (AEP) outlines how vegetation management evolved at AEP; and Gueth Braddock of Dixie Electric Membership Cooperative (DEMCO) showcases the specialized equipment needed to clear R/Ws in the southern United States. No matter how big or small, all electric utilities are looking to maximize the benefit of a successful vegetation management program.

The changes in the electric-utility industry during the past five years far outweigh any seen in the past 50 years. Increased demand for reliability, ever-increasing customer expectations, regulatory scrutiny and cost control will continue to challenge utilities. Business as usual in tree trimming will not meet these increased demands. Best-practice operations in tree trimming combined with technology improvements and new management processes will be essential. Across the electricutility industry, innovations continue to emerge and shape best practices for the new era.

The editors of Transmission & Distribution World would like to thank Joyce Steingass, Navigant Consulting Inc., and Peter Simpson, independent consultant, without whose untiring efforts this special section on vegetation management would have never come together.