If you have seen trees around town that look like the victims of a pair of scissors and a bowl, then you have seen visual evidence of Southern California Edison’s new ‘vegetation management’ strategy.
SCE defines this management as, “…a broad term that describes work Southern California Edison does to minimize the impact trees and vegetation have on providing safe and reliable electric service.”
Everyone knows how this plays out. You live in Mammoth Lakes for 50-60 years and have a nice tree outside of your house that you planted in your front yard with your own two hands. Then, in 2018, wildfires burn down half of California and all of a sudden SCE representatives show up at your door telling you they are going to ‘prune’ your tree.
Pruning is the polite term.
What actually occurs (from what we’ve seen thus far) is that they hack it to all living hell and move onto the next and you are left with something from the upside down (*Stranger Things reference, Lunch is told. Lunch doesn’t watch Stranger Things. Just reports on them).
According to SCE representative Mary-Ann Milbourn, there is actually some thought that goes into the “pruning” of these trees. “All the trees are inspected by a certified Arborist,” she insisted. “Our primary responsibility is to keep the area safe”
SCE inspects approximately 900,000 trees a year and prunes about 700,000 of those. The arborist is supposedly there to make sure the trimming is not going to kill the tree.
Milbourn told the Sheet that cutting down and/or pruning trees has been a common practice for a long time. “We have been doing this for about 25-30 years,” she said, denying that the recent fires have caused an increase in the amount of trees cut.
She did point to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) guidelines as the agency requiring this action, “We are in compliance with California PUC and are trimming the trees at their direction,” said Milbourn.
In 2017, PUC updated its guidelines for high fire risk areas. This required SCE to “trim 12 feet of clearance (at the time of the trim) from a power line to ensure the minimum required clearance is never threatened.”
With insurance claims and lawsuits running rampant, SCE might be overdoing it but the utility maintains it is acting within the boundaries determined by the CPUC.
It still seems like a bad deal considering the trees are getting cut when SCE could just update their electrical wires to provide insulation hedging against these events. Wilborn said that was an option SCE is currently rolling out, “We are aware that in high risk areas it sometimes isn’t enough to just prune the trees. We have started insulating wires in these areas and have done about 300 miles worth of work. But our coverage area is about 50,000 square miles and it is hard to get sto ome places. The Eastern Sierra comes with its own set of complications and some lines are way out in the boonies making them hard to reach.”
The horizon looks optimistic but Wilbourn claimed this wouldn’t necessarily end the pruning, “We are all about safety and the insulation is an extra measure to achieve that.” She said.
For now, it appears the animosity might continue until people accept the reality of our post-wildfire stricken world. Milbourn seemed to agree.
“I think the outrage comes from the heightened awareness in everything we (SCE) do.”