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What Does a Utility Arborist Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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A utility arborist addresses concerns about vegetation around high voltage power lines, phone lines, and other utility installations. The work includes predicting and controlling growth, trimming excess growth, and working with people in the community on safe landscaping activities. Utilities typically prefer applicants with experience in botany and vegetation management as well as high voltage training so they can work safely around power lines while maintaining tree and vegetation health. Some technical schools offer coursework intended to prepare students to become a utility arborist.

Utilities may maintain teams for this, or can contract the service out to other companies. When problems are reported with vegetation too close to utility installations, including trees downed in storms, arborists report to the scene. They assess the situation and develop a plan for addressing it which may include trimming, felling whole trees, or working with a land owner on better vegetation management. This is a particular concern with high voltage lines, which can be dangerous to work around if they are surrounded by heavy trees.

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In addition to responding to emergency situations, a utility arborist also regularly patrols installations to monitor them. This can include scheduling routine maintenance on trees and shrubs to keep them under control. When utilities scout new sites for installations, arborists can be part of the planning and site preparation process. Site preparation work may involve working with an assessor to determine the environmental impact of running services through a given area, considering the necessary clearance and other issues that may come up.

Clearing vegetation needs to be done with environmental health as well as human safety in mind. Stripping trees and shrubs could create a risk of erosion in addition to damaging animal habitat and creating an unsightly installation. The utility arborist works to develop a plan that won’t damage the environment while keeping the lines clear for safety. This can include establishing plantings of more easily controlled vegetation to limit growth of aggressive invasive species.

Members of the public may work with a utility arborist if they are near a utility easement. A representative can provide advice and assistance about felling trees and establishing landscaping. Some utilities may encourage people to contact them if they want to landscape in or around an easement, to make sure they select appropriate vegetation and keep the area accessible for line crews. Utilities may remove inappropriate plantings in an easement if they pose a risk to workers or the lines.

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