With more than 34,000 square miles of service territory, land use and biodiversity play an important role in our operations. Some of the major highlights include: an Integrated Vegetation Management System, Natural Resources Program, Wildlife Protection Programs, Fire Mitigation, Tree Replacement Program, Arbor Day Celebrations, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The APS Forestry & Special Programs Department oversees the maintenance of vegetation growing around APS facilities and equipment—including substations, overhead power lines and poles—to ensure safe and reliable delivery of electricity. APS Forestry maintains more than 20,000 miles of overhead power lines throughout Arizona.

Forestry & Special Programs is responsible for administering a variety of operations-related environmental programs in conjunction with vegetation management activities. Supported environmental efforts include the promotion of “Right Tree, Right Place” tree planting, wildlife and cultural resource protection and enhancement, and landscaping and fire prevention.

APS is one of two utility companies to take the lead in a pilot accreditation from the Right-of-Way Stewardship Council (ROWSC) in responsible right-of-way vegetation management. The ROWSC accreditation audits based on rigorous environmental stewardship management standards by an enlisted third-party auditor.

Integrated Vegetative Management

Electric utilities use a combination of methods to provide vegetation management using the Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) system. IVM involves a planned and systematic process to determine best-suited vegetation management methods for transmission rights-of-way, considers compatible and incompatible vegetation and action thresholds; and then selects and implements the most appropriate control methods to achieve established objectives. Control methods may be based on environmental impact and anticipated effectiveness combined with site characteristics and social, economic and current land use factors.

At APS, the desired outcome of IVM is the development of lush, low-growing shrub/grass/forb communities that do not interfere with overhead power lines, pose a fire hazard, or impede access. By using the proper vegetation management techniques, low-growing vegetation will eventually dominate the right-of-way and inhibit tall-growing and noxious vegetation growth, providing cultural and biological control of the incompatible species and reducing the frequency for future maintenance. This translates into reduced soil disturbance and erosion. A well-managed utility corridor can help convert a fragmented landscape into a habitat-enriched system by creating habitat connectivity between ecosystems and providing natural habitat for the survival of rare and endangered plants and animals.

APS’s IVM program follows professional industry arboriculture standards and best management practices approved through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI A300).

Natural Resources Program

Forestry & Special Programs maintains an in-house staff of natural resource specialists responsible for ensuring compliance with all applicable local, state, tribal and federal resource laws. The APS natural resource team works closely with company departments, and coordinates with federal and state agencies and Native American tribes during planning, construction and maintenance phases of projects to ensure that these activities do not harm threatened and endangered species or historic sites.

To avoid adversely impacting archaeological and historic sites that may be located within our various rights-of-way on public lands, APS sponsored an archaeological survey of its entire transmission system (69 kV and above) in 2012, resulting in the identification of approximately 2,000 sites. Archaeological surveys of the distribution system are on-going.

Wildlife and Rare Plant Protection Programs

APS is a member of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee and continues to work closely with this group to update the industry’s Suggested Practices for Avian Protection on Power Lines and Reducing Avian Collisions with Power Lines.

To meet the compliance requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other applicable statutes and regulations, Forestry & Special Programs has evolved to include a dedicated staff of natural resource professionals, consisting of foresters, arborists, biologists and archaeologists. Forestry & Special Programs, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has developed a comprehensive Avian Protection Plan. The company has implemented new construction design standards that require the installation of avian-safe devices and coverings to minimize potential hazards for raptors and other birds. All new construction is installed in accordance with the APS avian protection standards. Each year the company modifies more than 850 existing poles to meet these avian-safe design standards. Substations are likewise retrofitted with wildlife protection as necessary.

The company conducts a comprehensive nest management program to protect birds that build their nests on electrical equipment. APS developed a utility pole nest platform that can be installed in a safe place if nests pose a hazard for birds or electrical equipment.

Forestry & Special Programs has implemented programs for the protection of threatened and endangered plants and wildlife, particularly on federal agency land through collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. For these agencies, comprehensive analysis and consultation has been completed and/or is in process under the Endangered Species Act, and conservation measures are implemented for all work activities for the protection of threatened and endangered plants, wildlife, and their habitats. In addition, the department works with local land agencies for the protection of sensitive wildlife and rare plants.

APS collaborates with various environmental and conservation organizations and agencies on public education and awareness programs, habitat enhancement projects, biological assessments and species conservation plans. These organizations and agencies include:

  • Pollinator Partnership
  • Liberty Wildlife
  • Wild at Heart
  • National Wild Turkey Federation
  • Southwest Bald Eagle Association
  • United States Forest Service
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Arizona Game and Fish Department
  • International Society of Arboriculture
  • Arizona Community Tree Council
  • Right-of-Way Stewardship Council
  • Utility Arborist Association
  • North American Transmission Forum
  • Western Chapter ISA

Fire Mitigation

The Fire Mitigation Project is an initiative by APS to help reduce the likelihood of fire caused by electrical equipment.

This project involves deployment of new fuses to minimize discharge, devices that communicate when power is interrupted and a software program that helps determine ground faults. In addition, Forestry & Special Programs began a pilot project in 2015 to create defensible space around equipment poles (DSAP). The goal is to remove combustible material within a 10-foot radius around the pole. In 2016, the group completed work on 11,300 poles and will add 7,700 poles to this pilot program in 2017.

Tree Replacement Program

It is sometimes necessary to remove tall trees growing under or near power lines. In many circumstances, APS provides customers with low-growing replacement trees. In addition, APS educates and encourages communities to plant based on the APS “Right Tree, Right Place” brochure. The brochure is a homeowner’s guide to choosing and planting trees for a lifetime of beauty, safety and energy efficiency. Through this tree replacement program, APS supports the local plant nursery industry.

Arbor Day Celebrations

Forestry & Special Programs Department collaborates with the Arizona State Forestry Department in support of Arbor Day. Annually, APS hosts Arbor Day celebrations statewide at several local schools and municipal parks. These events involve an educational component about the importance of trees in the environment followed by a tree-planting ceremony on the school or park grounds. The Forestry & Special Programs Department divisions organize and participate in Arbor Day celebrations with communities and institutions within their respective service territories. APS has been a proud recipient of the Tree Line USA Award for the past 21 years in recognition of best practices in public and private utility arboriculture, demonstrating how trees and utilities can co-exist for the benefit of communities and citizens.