SIERRA VISTA — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Arizona is moving forward with plans to reduce the threat of wildfires from power lines crossing through active management areas beginning immediately and continuing through December 2020.
With the recent, recurring problems of wildfire devastation in California, “this destructive wildfire trend emphasizes the need for effective vegetation management and facilities maintenance to reduce the threat of wildfire in association with electrical transmission and distribution lines,” states the recently released policy.
In a press release, Arizona BLM public affairs specialist Delores Garcia stated, “The vegetation removal stems from a Department of the Interior order to reduce wildfire risks on federal lands and a 2018 Congressional amendment to the Federal Land Policy Act which added specific agency requirements for administering power line rights of way (ROWs).”
The BLM will work with ROW holders to identify any follow-up actions or modifications that may be required.
BLM Arizona State Director Ray Suazo remarked, “This policy will reduce the risk of wildfire associated with vegetation conditions in and around power line rights-of-way (ROW) on public land throughout Arizona by enabling utilities to more efficiently manage vegetation in these areas. It will also enhance the reliability of the electric grid by allowing for more prompt removal and pruning of vegetation that may be a threat to transmission and distribution lines.”
Garcia said the policy will be implemented to “improve forest and rangeland management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities through active management on forests and rangelands. The new BLM Arizona policy accomplishes these tasks by clarifying that utilities can conduct operation and maintenance activities to prevent and suppress wildfire immediately without an additional authorization from the BLM.”
According to June Lowrey, with the Gila District’s public affairs office, “The policy will apply to any power lines on public lands managed by the BLM, including Cochise County and the Bisbee area. Since it was just released there will be discussions in the near future on how it will be implemented.”
With nearly 17,000 ROWs for electric transmission and distribution lines crossing more than 70,000 miles in 11 contiguous western states and Alaska, it is an imposing plan, since they often contain or are adjacent to dead or dying trees and other vegetation that, if not properly maintained, can make contact with power lines and create a fire hazard, added Garcia.
The new policy is available on the BLM website at https://www.blm.gov/policy/az-im-2020-003.
“The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. In fiscal year 2018, the diverse activities authorized on BLM-managed lands generated $105 billion in economic output across the country. This economic activity supported 471,000 jobs and contributed substantial revenue to the U.S. Treasury and state governments, mostly through royalties on minerals,” according to the BLM website.