Pollinator Conservation | Fire Mitigation | Integrated Vegetation Management | Vegetation & Power Lines | Wildlife Protection & Resource Conservation Programs | Endangered Fish & Bird Recovery Program

Updated: March 2021

With more than 34,000 square miles in our service territory, proper land use and maintaining biodiversity are important components of our operations. Our Code of Ethics contains our Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Policy, which states that environmental stewardship is a key consideration in every decision we make.  Our choices recognize the inherent value of the natural world, minimize our impacts on the environment and preserve natural resources. We are committed to providing reliable and safe energy while maintaining Arizona’s healthy environment.

The Vice President of Transmission and Distribution Operations has governance over biodiversity issues, which are managed by the Forestry, Fire & Resource Management Department (FFRM). This team uses best practices to manage vegetation growing around our facilities and equipment—including substations, overhead power lines and poles—to ensure safe and reliable delivery of energy. FFRM maintains approximately 5,667 miles of overhead transmission lines and approximately 11,038 miles of overhead distribution lines throughout Arizona. In 2020, FFRM cleared potentially hazardous vegetation from 3,757 miles on 306 distribution feeders and from 1,590 miles on 76 transmission circuits. 

Our FFRM team has a dedicated staff of natural resource professionals, including foresters, arborists, biologists and archaeologists. They work to ensure we comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other applicable statutes and regulations. In addition, a variety of operations-related environmental programs are in place to manage vegetation in and around our facilities and rights-of-way to create habitat and keep areas available to support wildfire safety.

Pollinator Conservation

Arizona is an important stop for pollinators as they travel between the tropics and their northern breeding grounds. Thousands of acres of APS utility rights-of-way cross Arizona ecosystems as we bring energy to our customers. We oversee these habitats through integrated vegetation management, which helps attract and sustain butterflies, beetles and other pollinators. There are approximately 300,000 species of flowering plants worldwide that require pollinators, so the possibilities for our landscape plans are almost endless.

A two-tailed swallowtail butterfly as photographed by an APS employee in the field.

 We are contributing to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge by building pollinator habitats at several substations and engaging in conservation within right-of-way passages. In addition, we are managing and conserving the land under our transmission and distribution lines to attract pollinators. Our efforts align with the EPRI Power in Pollinators Initiative, which gives  energy companies tools and best practices to successfully integrate a pollinator habitat program with infrastructure, and we collaborate with nearly 20 other energy companies to support pollinators. 

The Orangewood Substation includes pollinator plantings, native plants, a water feature, bench and wildflowers. 

 

Fire Mitigation

In Arizona, about half of the primary structures are located near the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Due to extended drought over the past decade, forests and vegetation are stressed from the lack of regular and sufficient moisture, compounded by drier winters and warmer summers. These changes in weather patterns pose a fire risk to the communities we serve. In response, we collaborate with key stakeholders to reduce wildland fire risk and create defensible space throughout Arizona. We have finalized, and are creating visibility for, the APS Comprehensive Fire Mitigation Plan with internal and external stakeholders.

We work year-round to minimize the risk of wildfires. Public safety and coordination with first response and forest management agencies are our highest priorities in helping to prevent and respond to wildfires.

Learn more about wildfire safety at aps.com.

Through proactive fire mitigation measures, we work to reduce the likelihood of fire in and around our equipment. Mitigation initiatives include the deployment of infrastructure systems technology as well as mobile technology to track and report fires. These innovations allow us to be more proactive and nimbler in our efforts to keep first responders and our customers safe.

We use a three-pronged approach to mitigate fire risk. First, we assess site-specific fire risk and develop a model to prioritize resources. Second, we educate the communities we serve about fire mitigation. Third, we create defensible space around poles (DSAP) to address vegetation at the base of utility poles. The goal of the DSAP program is to remove combustible material inside a minimum 10-foot radius around equipment poles on a three-year cycle. Our rights-of-way, which are managed for incompatible vegetation, are used by firefighters to suppress wildfires across Arizona.

The effectiveness of our fire mitigation efforts was evident during the Bush Fire (2020) and the Woodbury Fire (2019) in the Tonto National Forest . During these events, our crews collaborated with state and local officials to de-energize power lines and ensure the safety of residents and homes in the affected areas. As a result of the defensible space created in our utility corridor, the fires were prevented from reaching many of our poles and damaging our lines. This greatly improved our ability to quickly restore service after the fires were contained.

We appreciate first responders who protect communities across the state, and are proud to support them by providing scholarships for rural firefighters to attend the Arizona State Fire School, sponsoring the Arizona Wildfire & Incident Management Academy in Prescott, and more.

Integrated Vegetation Management

We’ve made maintaining natural vegetation to preserve Arizona’s landscape part of our everyday business. We’ve done this by implementing an integrated vegetation management (IVM) program, which enables us to support Arizona’s diverse natural resources. As part of our commitment to environmental stewardship, we consider biodiversity factors in our project planning to reduce our impact on ecosystems.

As a nod to our commitment to maintain a sustainable landscape, in 2013 we became a Founding Accredited Utility through the Right-Of-Way Stewardship Council (ROWSC), which recognizes excellence in transmission vegetation management. We have renewed that commitment, were awarded ROWSC reaccreditation until 2024 and received acknowledgement for continued quality in environmental stewardship. The accreditation recognizes our vegetation management program as a best-in-class performer—we are one of only seven utilities in North America to receive it.

Vegetation & Power Lines

Public safety and service reliability are top priorities at APS, and we work to ensure that trees are planted in locations compatible with overhead power lines. When it’s necessary to remove non-compatible trees growing under or near lines, we often offer customers low-growing replacement trees.

We are committed to educating customers and encouraging our communities to plant based on the standards established in our “Right Tree, Right Place” program. This program promotes safe vegetation planting near power lines. Landscaping companies and homeowners are encouraged to choose and plant vegetation for a lifetime of beauty, safety and energy efficiency. This program supports the local plant nursery industry.

We educate community members about vegetation and power lines by hosting Arbor Day celebrations at schools and municipal parks statewide. Events such as tree-planting ceremonies on school or park grounds educate the public about the importance of trees in the environment.

We have been recognized as an annual recipient of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Line USA Award since 1996.

Wildlife Protection & Resource Conservation Programs

The Avian & Wildlife Protection Program, managed within the FFRM department, was created in the 1990s to address the interplay between birds of prey and power lines and equipment. Eagles, hawks, owls and other birds are attracted to power poles as a place to perch, roost, nest and hunt. The large wingspans of these birds make them vulnerable to electrocution. In addition to minimizing injury to wildlife, the program also improves the reliability of our energy delivery system by reducing outages and fires. To mitigate electrical contact, we adopted and practice proactive best-management construction standards and design strategies from the Edison Electric Institute’s Avian Power Line Interaction Committee.

The Avian & Wildlife Protection Program protects birds that build nests on electrical equipment. A utility pole nest platform that we developed can be installed in a safe place if nests pose a hazard for birds or equipment. We partner with wildlife rehabilitation organizations such as Liberty Wildlife to assist with the relocation of nests to the nest platforms.

Learn more about our avian & wildlife protection program at aps.com.

We have implemented a wide range of resource conservation programs to protect threatened and endangered plants and wildlife, partnering with federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Forest Service. Comprehensive analysis and consultation are conducted to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act, and conservation measures are implemented for the protection of threatened and endangered plants, wildlife and habitats. We also support local initiatives to protect sensitive wildlife and rare plants.

We collaborate with environmental and conservation organizations and agencies on public education and awareness programs, habitat-enhancement projects, biological assessments and species-conservation plans.

Endangered Fish & Bird Recovery Program

The biological opinion for the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project, developed as part of a Section 7 consultation conducted when renewing the plant and mine permits, was implemented in 2016 and will extend through 2041. As part of the settlement, Four Corners and the Navajo Mine agreed to reduce potential impacts associated with their operation by implementing certain Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) designed to protect endangered fish (Colorado Pikeminnow, Razorback Sucker) in the San Juan River and birds (Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo) in the plant’s deposition area.

Below are some highlights from RPM work performed in 2020:   

  • Four Corners developed and implemented a pumping plan (approved by Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in 2017) and modified the San Juan River intake structure to minimize potential for impingement and entrainment of endangered fish. APS coordinated possible 2020 pumping outages with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) associated with Colorado Pikeminnow stocking.
  • The total paid to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in support of 2021 activities was $583,788. These funds are used for endangered fish breeding and stocking, habitat enhancement, fish life-cycle studies, and paying the salary of a fisheries biologist to support the San Juan Recovery Implementation Program.
  • The Four Corners Spill Contingency Countermeasures Plan (SCCP) was approved by USFWS and OSMRE in May 2018. This plan ensures that Four Corners has a plan to address catastrophic failure of impoundments at the plant. The annual SCCP tabletop drill was conducted on December 7, 2020. The New Mexico State Engineer and San Juan County Office of Emergency Management waived the public meeting in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • An annual survey of endangered birds in the Four Corners deposition area was conducted in 2020 and submitted to OSMRE, as required in September 2020. Southwestern Willow Flycatchers were observed during the study.
  • There were no National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System exceedances at Four Corners in 2020.
  • APS worked with USFWS and United States Bureau of Reclamation to begin preliminary design of a fish passage at the APS weir. This will remove partial impediments to endangered fish movement and increase potential spawning habitat.
  • APS attended the virtual 2020 Washington, D.C. congressional briefings to promote continued funding of the San Juan River Recovery Implementation Plan and to secure post-2023 funding following expiration of the current program.

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