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USDA Forest Service Proposes Changes to Prevent Wildfire and Protect the Grid

Dec. 21, 2020
The Forest Service is seeking public input on directives to reduce fire risk in grasslands and national forests.

The USDA Forest Service seeks public input on two proposed directives that would address safety and reliability for powerline operations on national forests and grasslands. The proposed directives would implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and amendments made in 2018 to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The proposed directives also align with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s direction to make national forests and grasslands healthier and more productive.

The proposed changes would provide consistent direction for Forest Service staff when coordinating with utilities in managing vegetation, including removing dead and dying trees that pose a fire risk to powerline structures. These policy initiatives include new procedures for streamlining reviews and approvals for vegetation management and maintenance for powerlines.

“Our nation’s forests and grasslands provide an important link in delivering electricity to 70 million American homes and businesses,” said Forest Service Deputy Chief Chris French. “The proposed directives would not only help us improve the reliability of America’s electrical grid, but also would help reduce wildfire risk in powerline corridors and the cost of delivering electricity to millions of homes.”

The 30-day public comment period for the proposed directives, detailed below, end on January 11, 2021.  

  • Operating Plans and Agreements for Powerline Facilities: This proposed directive would add Chapter 80 to Forest Service Handbook 2709.11 to provide guidance on vegetation management, routine maintenance, and inspection of powerlines within and adjacent to their authorized rights-of-way on national forests and grasslands. These activities include removing trees that pose a hazard inside and outside powerline rights-of-way. The proposed directive would provide guidance to Forest Service staff when working with electric utilities to develop comprehensive operating plans or agreements that cover system reliability and fire mitigation activities while minimizing impacts on natural resources. The proposed directive would implement section 512 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Forest Service’s recently issued regulations implementing section 512. More information on the proposed directive and how to submit comments may be found here.
  • Vegetation Management Pilot Projects: The proposed directive would add Chapter 2740 to the Forest Service Manual to provide direction to agency staff on issuing special use authorizations for natural gas or electric utilities to conduct vegetation management pilot projects. The pilot projects would involve vegetation management outside the utilities’ rights-of-way, but not the removal of hazard trees associated with powerlines. The proposed directive would implement section 8630 of the 2018 Farm Bill. More information on the proposed directive and how to submit comments may be found here.

For more information on these proposed directives, visit the Forest Service website here.

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