As part of a ground-breaking collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Arizona Public Service (Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.) is leading a utility-government joint venture to streamline the permitting process required to work within established utility corridors in Arizona's forests. This initiative involves all six national forests in Arizona and the electric utilities that own and operate power lines within the forests.

Utility corridors are included in a forest service special-use permit process that allows APS and others to conduct maintenance-related activities. The permit authorizes utilities to work within the corridors to maintain power lines and manage vegetation that might interfere with the delivery of energy.

"Like other Arizona utilities, APS has thousands of miles of power lines that are vital to serving the needs of our customers-many of those lines passing through Arizona's National Forests," explained Scott Paulsen, Environmental Scientist in the APS Forestry & Special Programs department. "Our ability to access those power lines and conduct maintenance is critical to maintaining high levels of system reliability and customer service."

Fortunately, according to Paulsen, the agencies responsible for permitting also recognize the importance of timely access.

"The Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service have broken new ground with their participation in this initiative," stressed Paulsen. "They appreciate the need to expedite completion of the required environmental evaluations and standardize the policies that guide how work is done in our forests."

The purpose of the agreement is to establish an effective, efficient and collaborative process for environmental evaluations related to activities associated with maintenance activities in power line corridors.

The initiative will be implemented in two phases:

  • First, the Forest Service will initiate emergency consultation immediately with the Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the removal of trees that present an imminent threat to power lines. Concurrently, the agencies will consult on the effects of future hazard tree removal from Forest Service lands in Arizona over the next two years.
  • The second phase will focus on biological evaluations of all activities along transmission and distribution line corridors located on Forest Service lands in Arizona for the life of the special-use permits.

Brenda Smith, assistant field supervisor in the Fish & Wildlife Service's Arizona Ecological Services Office, sees this process as a means to plan ahead and minimize long-term effects to threatened and endangered species. "We know that the utilities need to maintain their power lines, and they don't always have the flexibility to wait to address hazardous conditions. This process acknowledges these needs but also recognizes that we are affecting protected species and their habitats. By planning across the forests, we can be consistent in how we minimize effects and respond to hazardous conditions, and we have more options for maintaining and improving habitat."

The forests that have utility corridors addressed in this historic initiative are Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab, Prescott and Tonto National Forests.

"The six Forest Supervisors in Arizona and the Fish and Wildlife Service really stepped up to the plate to remove hazardous trees that are an immediate threat to fall on power lines, start fires and disrupt power delivery to utility customers," said Alan Quan, Prescott National Forest Supervisor. "We're off to a severe fire season and hot weather. I applaud this cooperative work to streamline consultation that benefits people and still protects fish and wildlife habitat."

As part of the agreement, APS will provide environmental and technical assistance to the Forest Service and the participant utilities will provide primary funding of the two-year study designed to streamline access to power lines in National Forests. Other utilities participating in the project include Garkane Energy, Navopache Electric Cooperative, Qwest, Salt River Project, Tucson Electric Power, and the Western Area Power Association.