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Enhanced Vegetation Management – October 2018

The following information was prepared by PG&E in response to questions from residents of the Santa Cruz Mountains regarding enhanced vegetation management work. For any additional questions or requests for information, customers are encouraged to call PG&E at 1-877-295-4949 or email wildfiresafety@pge.com. You can also learn more by visiting pge.com/enhancedveg. The information below is provided solely by PG&E, which also notes that following the wildfires in 2017, some of the changes are contemplated as additional precautionary measures intended to reduce future wildfire risk.

Community Wildfire Safety Program
Nothing is more important to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) than keeping our customers and communities safe. Extreme weather events driven by climate change are causing unprecedented and unanticipated wildfires. We have already enhanced our efforts to further reduce wildfire risks in response to this changing environment and the 2017 statewide wildfires, and we are partnering now to do even more.

Wildfire Safety Vegetation Work
Under our Community Wildfire Safety Program, we were already working to meet new state vegetation and fire safety standards. In response to the growing wildfire threat our state faces this year, we are expanding and accelerating our vegetation and safety work to be sure we are addressing any overhanging branches or limbs, which have the potential to come into contact with power lines. In some cases, removal of hazardous trees may be necessary, particularly if the tree is in poor health.

As part of this effort, PG&E is conducting inspections and essential wildfire safety work in extreme fire-threat areas (Tier 3), as designated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) High Fire-Threat District map (available at cpuc.ca.gov/FireThreatMaps). We are reaching out to customers through automated phone calls, letters, emails, door knocks and doorhangers. We will work together with our customers to review the wildfire safety work and answer questions.

Questions and Answers

Why is PG&E doing this work now?
Since launching the Community Wildfire Safety Program, we have seen even more devastating and deadly wildfires including the state’s largest wildfire ever – and it’s likely to get worse.

  • According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of late August 2018, more than 5,800 wildfires have already burned over 1.4 million acres this year.
  • The Mendocino Complex Fire destroyed over 459,000 acres, making it the largest complex fire in California history.
  • The Ranch Fire, within the Mendocino Complex Fire, has become the state’s single largest modern wildfire.

Given the destructive and growing nature of wildfires that communities, neighborhoods and customers face, it is essential that we conduct this critical safety work.

How is this wildfire safety work different from PG&E’s routine tree work?
We were already working to meet new state vegetation and fire safety standards, which require a clearance of 4 feet around power lines in high fire-threat areas with recommended minimum clearances of 12 feet or more at time of trim to ensure compliance year-round. This work is about addressing overhanging branches or limbs, which have the potential to come into contact with power lines. In some cases, removal of hazardous, dead and dying trees may also be necessary for safety reasons. While we conduct this important wildfire safety work, our crews continue to perform our annual inspections and maintain required clearances.

Why is PG&E removing trees that are farther than 12 feet from the power line?
The goal of this critical wildfire safety effort is to reduce the risk of trees, limbs and branches coming into contact with power lines. In some cases, it may be necessary for us to trim or remove dead or dying trees, or certain species of trees, that are at increased risk of falling into the lines to better protect our customers and communities. The total distance we are reviewing depends on the tree species and how tall the tree is. We are assessing trees that may be in poor health as well as specific tree species that have demonstrated a historical pattern of falling or dropping limbs during fire season.

What do the different colored markings on trees mean? How will residents know what trees will be trimmed or removed?
Different colored markings indicate either the specific PG&E vegetation management program that is addressing the tree or the year worked. For the wildfire safety work we are doing now, any trees that need to be addressed will be marked with yellow paint. Trees that require trimming will be marked with a dot at the base of the tree, while hazardous trees that need to be removed will be marked with an “X,” and a notice will be posted on the tree. We are working directly with property owners to review any necessary safety work on their property and answer any questions. Customers with questions about tree markings can also call us at 1-877-295-4949.

Will PG&E be removing Redwoods as part of this program?
There is an exception allowing Coastal Redwoods to remain if they are at least 24 inches in diameter and at least six inches away from the power line, as long as the tree is in good health. This exception is because large, mature Coastal Redwoods have historically shown a reduced pattern of trunk failures. Coastal Redwoods do, however, drop limbs so we will still need to trim the limbs and branches on the wire side of the tree within the 12-foot safety clearance zone. In the rare case that trimming the one side of the tree will significantly compromise the tree’s health, the tree will be removed for safety reasons.

What about the impact this work will have on the local canopy and surrounding landscape?
We understand how important trees are to our customers, communities and the environment. Trees are important to us, too. The terrible reality, though, is that climate-driven extreme weather events are causing more deadly and devastating wildfires than have been seen previously. We must do even more to be sure trees, limbs and branches are kept safely away from power lines, to further reduce the risk of wildfires. We would be pleased to provide property owners with safe planting recommendations to help them select compatible trees for the right place on their property (visit pge.com/righttreerightplace). Information regarding fire resistant landscaping can be found at readyforwildfire.org or firesafecouncil.org.

Will PG&E compensate customers for any potential property value losses associated with the work?
We want our customers to be completely informed and will meet with them to review any wildfire safety work on their property. While we are not offering compensation related to the trimming or removal of hazardous trees, we are conducting this important safety work at no direct cost to the customer and will haul away all wood debris unless the customer would like to keep it.

What is PG&E doing with the wood debris associated with this work?
Any wood debris associated with this wildfire safety work will be removed within a few weeks after completion of the safety work, unless property owners notify PG&E that they would like to keep it.

What about the impact on wildlife habitat? What type of environmental review is being done?
As part of our commitment to protecting the environment, PG&E relies on a team of experts to help minimize impacts on vegetation, trees and wildlife habitat. Every project is reviewed by a team of biology, cultural resource and environmental field specialists. The review involves identifying any critical habitat, endangered species, native plants or cultural resources that need to be protected during work, where required. The review is done through a search and analysis of aerial and topographic imagery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) critical habitat designations and species databases, the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) and various cultural resources inventory databases. While nesting bird season has passed (February through August), we are looking for any raptor nests within 300 feet of our work.

Is PG&E going through CEQA for this work?
PG&E works with agencies who permit our safety work to ensure compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) wherever it applies. Much of PG&E’s maintenance work, including most of our wildfire vegetation management work, does not result in the type of impacts that would trigger discretionary environmental permit requirements due to the nature of the work, its setting and PG&E’s use of best management practices and avoidance and minimization measures.

What is being done for erosion control and unstable hillsides?
Our wildfire safety vegetation work aligns with California Board of Forestry Best Management Practices to address erosion control. Ground stability is something we take seriously and is taken into consideration by inspectors when trees are identified for removal. Often, an unstable hillside may necessitate the removal of a tree to prevent it from falling into the power line and posing a fire risk. While best management practices are followed by tree crews, generally there is no formal hillside stability analysis conducted as part of this wildfire safety work. When a tree is removed for safety reasons, the stump and root system are left in place which supports the slope and can also help prevent erosion. If hill stability is a concern after a tree is removed, PG&E can work with a customer or municipality to assess the situation.

How does PG&E plan to prevent water runoff?
During our vegetation management work, crews remove debris in a manner that prevents it from entering streams, wetlands, ditches, drainage courses and storm drain inlets. When needed, and in the steeper areas, crews use sediment controls to prevent sediment and/or debris from leaving the work area. Upon completion of the work, crews clear debris and construction materials from the site and return drainage ways to their preconstruction line and grade. Crews also cover disturbed soil areas with a combination of temporary and permanent vegetative stabilization measures.

What about potential damage caused to roadways as a result of trucks and equipment?
Vehicles and equipment will use paved roadways, established access routes and previously disturbed areas to the extent practicable. Crews avoid tracking sediment onto paved roadways and use low pressure, wide tire equipment when possible. Frequent inspections of roads are also done during all operations. If there is any damage to roads and access routes as a result of this work, crews will repair it once work is complete.