At its March 27th workshop, the Board of Forestry released a revised (and much improved) draft regulation proposing changes to the Forest Practice Rules addressing how:   

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

  • Electric utilities conduct vegetation management activities. 

The new draft made significant changes to the Public Agency and Utility Right-of-Way proposals.  It also introduced a PG&E proposal to significantly increase the size of their rights-of-way along overhead distribution and transmission lines. 

Public Agency Right-of-Way Notice of Exemption 

At its workshop, the Board of Forestry provided an overview of the Public Agency Right-of-Way proposal, which they characterized as largely maintaining status quo.  Under the proposal, public agencies seeking to perform vegetation management that constitutes “timber operations” within a public right-of-way located on “timberland” will first have to file a Notice of Exemption prepared by a Registered Professional Forester.  Timber operations performed under the Notice of Exemption would have to be carried out by a Licensed Timber Operator.  CalFire staff indicated that while Public Agencies had historically filed Notices of Exemption with the state, they have not done so over the last several years. 

The revised proposed also deleted controversial changes to “timber operations” and “timberlands” that would have brought all right-of-way maintenance activities within the definition of “timber operations.”   

Utility Rights-of-Way Notice of Exemption 

The Board’s new proposal makes significant changes to the Utility Right-of-Way Notice of Exemption process.  In response to serious concerns expressed by RCRC and several other organizations, the new proposal would require utilities to remove woody debris and slash within 150’ of a structure, remove/chip/burn woody debris that may impede the use of roads for access, egress, and public safety, and treat slash and woody debris to achieve a maximum post-harvest depth of 18” above the ground. 

These changes are intended to ensure that utilities do not compromise landowner efforts to maintain legally required defensible space perimeters.  RCRC suggested further refinements to ensure that all slash and woody debris that impedes access, egress, and public safety shall be removed, not just what impedes the use of roads.  Further revisions may also provide a pathway for landowners to request that wood be left on site. 

Proposed increases to Size of Utility Rights-of-Way 

Concerning the widths of utility rights-of-way, PG&E suggested more than doubling the size of the right of way for distribution lines under 33KV and significantly increasing those distances for higher voltage lines and telephone cables/open wires.  These changes are likely to be extremely controversial for property owners who have distribution and transmission lines running across their land.  The Board did not discuss this proposal at the March 27th workshop, but it is likely to comprise a significant portion of the discussion at the next workshop, which is likely to occur in the first half of April. 

RCRC strongly encourages local governments and property owners to carefully review the Public Agency Right-of-Way provisions of the draft regulation and participate in the next Board of Forestry workshop.   RCRC will provide an update when the Board announces the date and time of the next workshop. 

For more information, contact RCRC Senior Policy Advocate John Kennedy.