Dec 27, 2017
As part of its response to California’s tree mortality crisis, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) will conduct aerial patrols in Sonoma County on Thursday, December 28, to identify dead trees that could pose a wildfire or other public safety risk.
“Even with the wet winter last year and recent rains here in Sonoma County, five years of drought in California have caused millions of trees to die or become structurally compromised. That’s why we’ve added enhanced measures to help keep the communities we serve safe,” said Dave Canny, Senior Manager of PG&E’s Sonoma Division.
Every year, PG&E inspects and monitors every overhead electric transmission and distribution line, with some locations patrolled multiple times. Since the tree mortality crisis began, the energy company has increased foot and aerial patrols in high fire-risk areas to twice a year and up to four times a year in some locations. Last year, PG&E conducted secondary patrols on 61 percent of power lines, and in 2017, expects to patrol 65 percent of lines a second time.
Flights will occur along Highway 1 and Highway 116 in the towns of Rohnert Park and Bodega Bay and the communities of Valley Ford and Bloomfield. Depending on clear weather conditions, flights leave Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport around 8:00 a.m. and conduct patrols through 4:00 p.m.
PG&E is using a contract helicopter service to fly foresters over the area to inspect trees. Patrolling by air allows the company to cover many miles quickly and efficiently, and reduces impacts on the ground. Residents are advised that the helicopter will fly low – about 200 to 300 feet – along distribution power lines, and higher in areas where livestock are present.
A new aerial survey released today by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) shows that trees continue to die at a rapid rate in California. Even with record rains last winter and the drought declared over, these dead trees continue to be a public safety hazard near roads, communities and critical infrastructure. With public safety as its top priority, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has committed significant resources to removing trees impacted by drought or bark beetle throughout its service area. During 2017, PG&E expects to have removed approximately 148,000 dead or dying trees that could threaten its power lines. This is on top of the 1.4 million trees it prunes or removes under its routine vegetation management program each year.
The USFS announced it has identified an additional 27 million trees since its last survey in November, 2016, bringing the total since 2010 to 129 million. Members of the Governor's Tree Mortality Task Force, made up of more than 80 state and federal agencies, local governments, energy companies –including PG&E- and others have been working together to address epidemic tree mortality.
"We have made significant progress to help reduce wildfire risk by removing dead and dying trees, and we're not slowing down. We will continue this critical safety work in 2018 and expand our fuel management efforts in high fire-risk areas," said PG&E President and Chief Operating Officer Nick Stavropoulos.
In 2018, PG&E's expanded fuel management work within designated high-fire risk areas will include: reducing vegetation near electric distribution lines; providing access space for emergency responders; maintaining existing fuel breaks and connecting new fuel breaks to existing ones created by other private or public entities; and performing long-term fuel management. This work may also be conducted in areas previously cleared or impacted by wildfires and is above and beyond state and federal mandated vegetation clearance requirements.
"As an elected leader in a severely impacted area, I've witnessed first-hand the hard work and incredible support from PG&E to remove dead and dying trees. Their continued commitment in 2018 speaks volumes about their unwavering focus on safety and their customers," said Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler.
Since 2013, PG&E has invested $1.6 billion in its vegetation management programs to reduce power outages and wildfire risks. Since the tree mortality crisis began in 2014, PG&E added the following enhanced measures to address areas particularly affected by drought and bark beetles.
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