On March 27th, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and Board of Forestry (BOF) will hold a second and final workshop on proposed changes to the Forest Practice Rules relative to: 

  • How public agencies conduct vegetation management within public rights-of-way; 

  • How electric utilities conduct vegetation management activities. 

The workshop will be held from 12:00p.m. to 4:00p.m. at 715 P Street, Room 2-221 in Sacramento or can be attended via Teams. The workshop seeks broad input from stakeholders before initiation of the formal rulemaking process that will likely begin in May 2024.   

Public Agency Right-of-Way Vegetation Management 

The Forest Practice Rules have long exempted the construction or maintenance of a right-of-way by a public agency. New proposed modifications would expressly include within the definition of “timber operations” subject to the Forest Practice Rules “the construction or maintenance of a right-of-way…insofar as the cutting or removal of trees for those purposes has a reasonable nexus to a commercial activity, such as providing safe and reliable utility service or ensuring safe travel for commercial traffic along transportation corridors.”  Other modifications to the Rules would appear to affirmatively require local governments to have a Registered Professional Forester file a Notice of Exemption prior to construction or maintenance of a right-of-way, including alongside roads.  

RCRC has requested that the BOF provide an overview of this specific issue at the March 27th workshop, including rationale for these changes, and disputed any notion that local road maintenance projects are done for “commercial purposes.”  

Utility Vegetation Management 

The BOF continues to consider modifications to the Forest Practice Rules in response to recent requests by PG&E to clarify the scope of rules relative to utility vegetation management operations.   

RCRC continues to push back against the Proposed Amendments relative to utility vegetation management because those changes will result in the creation of public safety hazards and impose severe burdens on landowner efforts to maintain defensible space in high wildfire risk areas. 

Under the proposal, utilities would only be required to remove felled wood and debris within 150’ of an “approved legally permitted structure;” however, utilities would be relieved of that obligation within the utility’s right-of-way.  The mismatch between the Proposed Amendments and existing defensible space laws creates a significant burden for landowners to remove those fuels – burdens that many landowners are either physically or financially unable to perform.  Worse yet, relieving utilities from having to remove felled wood and slash within the right-of-way would allow them to dispose of flammable fuels within legally required defensible space perimeters, regardless of the safety or access risks created, and create a public nuisance per se.  

For more information, contact RCRC Senior Policy Advocate John Kennedy