Recent Workshop Focused on Trees and Utility Lines – Maintaining Both Safety and Tree Health

City of Lamar, Tree Placement

Proper tree placement in relation to utility lines. Source: International Society of Arboriculture, ‘Avoiding Tree Utility Conflicts’,

Several utility companies participated in a workshop this past week in La Junta focused on trees and electric utility lines.

Jack Wolfe, Chief Operating Office for Southeast Colorado Power Association (SECPA), spoke about how utility service providers carry a huge responsibility (by law) to provide safe and reliable service. When a tree is trimmed or removed near utility lines, it’s for good reason – it is the wrong tree type, and in the wrong place, and could cause interruptions to service. Utility services in the United States have become such an expected part of our daily lives that they are often taken for granted. For example, SECPA services 13,000 square miles in 11 counties through a network of 5,500 miles of power lines. Every year, SECPA must clear hundreds of tree branches that have grown into electric lines in order to maintain uninterrupted service, and to ensure public safety. But people can take steps to minimize the impacts of electric line clearance pruning.

Be Proactive: When planting trees look up, down, and all around! Where utilities are concerned, the most important decision you can make when planting trees is to plant them where they will not interfere with utility lines (either above or below ground) when they reach full maturity. Understanding what a tree will look like in 20-30 years, and placing it in an appropriate location based on its mature size will not only avoid utility conflicts in the future, but will also mitigate infrastructure damage to sidewalks and buildings (from roots and branches), and visual obstructions at road intersections. Only trees and shrubs that grow to a mature height of less than 20 feet should be planted within the “low zone” of overhead utility lines (see Fig.1).

Note: Always dial 811 before digging to have underground utilities located on your property.

Doug Lyons, Line Clearing Working Supervisor for Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU), spoke about how proper pruning techniques should be used during electric line clearance. Using proper pruning techniques reduces stress reactions by trees (i.e. growing back quickly with lots of new shoots), and thus reduces return trimming intervals, saving time and money.

Electric companies usually trim out branches that interfere with the power lines, rather than remove the entire tree (removals can occur in some instances). For primary lines, the clearance requirement is 10 feet. This compromise allows the tree to remain where it is, but also means the tree might be pruned in a way that typically makes the tree less aesthetically appealing. However, electric line clearance pruning can be successfully implemented, provided proper pruning techniques are utilized. For illustrations that demonstrate proper, and improper, pruning techniques to utilize under and alongside power lines, please visit

Mr. Lyons also stressed that only qualified personnel trained in electric line safety should prune trees near electric lines. This means that homeowners, and tree trimmers not trained in electric line safety, should never attempt to prune trees that are closer than 10 feet to electric wires. Call your local electric utility company for assistance.

For more safety information about electricity, please visit the SECPA website , or the Safe Electricity® Program

Ms. Rhonda Latka with Black Hills Energy (BHE) rounded out the program by presenting information about their Power of Trees program. This program donates approximately 70 trees annually on a rotational basis to communities within the BHE service area in Southeastern Colorado. This donation of trees has served a dire need in many of our local communities that have little to no budget for community forestry activities. BHE focuses on planting trees in areas such as schools and parks. For more information about the BHE Power of Trees Program, please visit

The Colorado State Forest Service, La Junta District closed out the workshop by stating that trees and utility infrastructure can coexist in many instances, but it takes commitment from homeowners, business owners, and municipalities to be proactive by planting the right tree in the right place, and commitment from utility companies to maintain uninterrupted service, public safety, and to utilize proper line clearance pruning techniques.

Colorado State Forest Service, La Junta District

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