The best way to develop an effective vegetation management program is to have experienced, professional managers and utility arborists direct its operations. These managers need to be well educated, experienced, certified and active in their industry. Leadership, communication, management capabilities and team building are critical. Your management — the foundation of your program — determines its effectiveness.

A strong work force is the next step in program development. Whether paid directly by you or indirectly through a contractor, they will be doing the work on your system. Take care of them. Develop and support skilled professionals who can perform the work safely and efficiently. Turnover in the work force is debilitating; losing people equates to losing skills. Hire the best people, pay them well and train them continuously. Industry programs such as certification, standards and best management practices will help keep workers safe and up to date. Inform them about what you expect and keep them apprised of changes to the program. Build teamwork so everyone involved in the program is on board with the same goals.

Your utility also needs to take a systematic approach to the work. Trees grow every year, and your program should keep pace with their growth. Systematically and consistently working through your system is the most efficient method of maintaining it. This allows you to use the best people, and reduce travel and rework time. Funding should be consistent from year to year to maintain a level of public safety and a professional core work force.

Recognize that results will be tied to funding levels, so fund the program appropriately. A properly directed vegetation management project can be an investment with a good return — possibly among the best in your organization.

A fair financial analysis can help you compare the return with other utility projects. Remember, when it comes to trees, a condition that can be fixed easily and inexpensively today can become a major cost in the future if not remedied. Here are some illustrations:

  • The epitome of long-term returns is “right tree, right place.” The right tree will never need to be pruned; your maintenance costs are eliminated for the life of that tree. This can be achieved with tree removal, replacement programs and public education.

  • Removing or pruning a tree before it causes an outage is many times more cost effective than repairing the system. The challenge is identifying which trees could cause outages in the future.

  • Deferred maintenance has a dramatic effect on future costs in tree work. What could be a couple of clips with a pole pruner today could be an expensive and time-consuming operation in three years.

  • The benefits of work-force development will be apparent as long as an individual works on your system. This development is greatly affected by consistency, so it should be an ongoing process rather than a single investment.

  • Cooperation and collaboration with communities, agencies, landowners and concerned citizens is time consuming, but can save significant amounts of money. It also can improve public perception.

  • Hazard-tree reduction programs specifically address reliability. If a tree will damage the system when it falls, it should be removed before it becomes weak. The hazard will then be eliminated. These are expensive programs, but they will give a return for years to come.

So, what results can be expected? Now our power lines are protected from trees, and the public is protected from the power lines. We simultaneously see system reliability improved, especially during storms. The people who own trees or care about trees are treated with respect. The environment and trees are treated with care. As we wisely apply our resources, we will obtain a good return on the investments. These outcomes are predicated on quality work from skilled and certified arborists who maintain a professional image for the utility. Trees live and develop on a different time scale than people, markets or financial institutions. They are persistent and will do everything to reach their genetic potential. As they continuously grow, we need to continuously care for them.
Ward Peterson
Utility Arborist Association

Ward Peterson is president of the Utility Arborist Association and a utility resources manager for the Davey Resource Group.