Fire-suppression costs and litigation can cost millions of dollars. An agreement between the province of Alberta, Canada, and resident utilities provides for limiting liability for the cost of wildfire suppression. The agreement, negotiated in the early 1990s, limits costs to those utilities (electric, pipeline) that have the use of land in and adjacent to provincially controlled forested areas.

Years of dispute as to who is responsible for a fire caused by trees that contact energized power lines from within or outside of the legal boundaries of the right-of-way resulted in the incentive to develop a win-win agreement that results in a responsible approach of mitigating the risk and sharing any associated costs.

The old argument that if the power line was not there, dead, diseased or wind-blown trees that fall would never cause a fire was the forest service's stand. The electric power line owners always argued that they are not responsible for fallen trees that are not on the disposition or under their control. In other words, they are government trees, and it is up to the government to take care of them. Further, the province of Alberta attempted to recapture the costs of fire suppression from companies they deemed responsible, and the end result was that these charges were challenged in court and/or seldom paid. This conflict rarely resulted in a satisfactory result by one or both of the parties.

In 1993, one electric utility with two representatives — one from the transmission department and one from the distribution department — and the manager of wildfire suppression agreed to sit down and see if a win-win agreement was possible. After a year and a half of negotiating, an agreement was in place.

The fundamentals of the agreement included:

  • Electric power line company must have a five-year approved plan in place to manage the vegetation on its right-of-way.
  • Electric power line company must have a “danger tree” plan in place that addresses trees that were dead or diseased or leaning that could contact the power line but were outside the boundaries of the right-of-way. This plan had to be approved by the forest service on an annual basis.

Once the provincial forest service signed off on this agreement, any liability to the electric utility for the fire suppression and loss of merchantable timber for fires caused by trees contained within this agreement would be limited to CDN$100,000.

This agreement ensured that a responsible and sustainable vegetation management program is in place in the forested areas of the province, and it incented the electric utilities to help mitigate fire risk due to the location of their power lines. In return, the forest service had a partner in helping to reduce the potential of power line-caused fires. A win-win agreement was possible.

ISA Annual Conference

This agreement and its development will be discussed in a presentation at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) annual conference in Sydney, Australia, July 23-27, 2011.

ISA has announced the speaker lineup and session overview for the conference, which features a look at the best in new research, trends and best practices for the arboricultural profession. The three-day educational programming includes two full days of utility program with tracks for utility arboriculture education.

The ISA and its professional affiliate the Utility Arborist Association annually work together to provide educational opportunities for arborists working in utility services arboriculture.

For more conference details, visit www.isa-arbor.com/events/conference