On March 19th, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and Board of Forestry (BOF) will hold an in-person workshop in Sacramento to discuss proposed amendments to the Forest Practice Rules regarding vegetation management performed by electrical utilities and public agencies.  The workshop seeks broad input from stakeholders and works towards a solution prior to a formal rulemaking process.  

PG&E proposed modifications to the Forest Practice Rules in 2021, and formally requested in October 2023, that the Board of Forestry open a rulemaking to address these issues.  Generally, PG&E has disputed the applicability of California’s Forest Practice Rules to utility vegetation management activities.  A recent BOF Staff Report correctly challenged those arguments and provided an overview of the proposal and stakeholders concerns expressed at the first meeting on the issue in January 2024.   

The Proposed Amendments to the Forest Practice Rules seek to streamline utility vegetation management permitting requirements but create several significant issues that will impose severe burdens on landowner efforts to maintain defensible space and will create public safety hazards.   

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.  California defensible space requirements apply to all structures, regardless of whether a permit was required or obtained.  This 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.  Similarly, the Proposed Amendments create a false impression that utilities may leave felled wood and slash within public rights-of-way, which would constitute a public nuisance per se. 

Many stakeholders and state agencies have raised concerns about the Proposed Amendments. RCRC’s concerns can be viewed here.  

RCRC appreciates that the Board is taking a step back to facilitate deeper discussions about the underlying issues. RCRC seeks to create greater certainty and clearer expectations for the execution of utility vegetation management activities, as those activities are integral to reducing wildfire risk and improving energy reliability in high-risk communities.   

Details on the workshop can be found here. For more information, contact RCRC Senior Policy Advocate John Kennedy.