Trimming is widely used as a synonym for pruning. By extension, it is common for utilities to refer to their vegetation management departments as tree-trimming programs. However, line clearance is far-more involved than just trimming trees. Take a look at the articles in this supplement. They range from research on cover-type conversion to herbicide use, rights-of-way strategies, innovative approaches to securing funding and characterizing the risks from aging forests. This array of topics, as well as those in past supplements, only scratches the surface of challenges confronting contemporary utility arborists.
The designation “trimming program” fails to convey the level of sophistication and professionalism that is now required for such a variety of responsibilities. Think about it, “trim” has dozens of definitions. It is used generically to describe activities people perform on turkeys, Christmas trees, fingernails, hair, lawns and many other things besides pruning. It seems to me that associating pruning with all these behaviors implies to many people that trimming doesn't take any particular skill — anyone can to it as well as they can trim their fingernails, for example.
Pruning, however, is a scientifically based arboricultural practice. It requires knowledge, training and experience to do well, especially in proximity to high-voltage lines. Calling it pruning recognizes the expertise the skill commands. Moreover, I think it's even worse to call a utility's vegetation management department a trimming program. I hope that would be clear to even a casual reader of the range of topics covered in this and past vegetation management supplements to Transmission & Distribution World.
Now, don't think this is a new idea. Nearly 70 years ago, G.D. Blair complained in his pioneering utility forestry book Line Clearance for Overhead Lines: A Textbook of Public Utility Forestry (1940) that tree trimming was a misnomer, because line clearance involved much more than simply trimming trees. It's not just vanity either. Line clearance is frequently misunderstood and often maligned by the public.
In a 2007 survey (“Knowledge of and Attitudes About Utility Pruning and How Education Can Help” published in Arboriculture & Urban Forestry), M.R. Kuhns and D.K. Reiter found that only 10.5% of respondents considered utilities to be their most-trusted source for information about pruning trees near power lines. Failing to convey a high level of professionalism by using demeaning terminology could contribute to the public's misconception of a lack of competency in utility arboriculture. Inappropriate terminology also affects the way utility executives perceive the profession. After all, vegetation management is the greatest maintenance expense for many utilities. It generally contacts more electric customers than any other department, and often has more affect on reducing service reliability and electric safety risks than any other utility initiative. Management needs assurance they are dealing with professionals capable of handling such responsibilities and large sums of money. I doubt the term “tree trimmer” rises to the level that deserves that kind of respect.
The International Society of Arboriculture recognizes the importance of proper terminology in the names it applies to its certification programs. There is no certified tree trimmer. Rather, there are certified tree workers, climbing and aerial specialists, certified arborists, municipal and utility specialists, and board-certified master arborists. The titles are respectful and recognize the dignity of the profession. We should do the same. We should call specific tasks by their proper names and describe our programs in general as vegetation management.
Utility vegetation management demands a high level of professionalism. Transmission & Distribution World has recognized as much in recent years in this series of supplements devoted to the topic. Read and reflect on the articles that follow, and judge for yourself whether or not tree trimmer accurately describes the type of person that can satisfy the demands they describe. I think not, and I hope you agree.
Utility Arborist Association
Randall Miller (Randy.Miller@PacifiCorp.com) is president of the Utility Arborist Association and director of vegetation management for PacifiCorp.