By Korie Marshall

We know trees can cause problems with power lines. We know trees and branches can get knocked down by wind, snow, ice, or they can just fall down because they are diseased or dead. We know we have a lot of trees in BC, and a lot of power lines running near them, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise to hear that a tree has knocked out power. I am slightly surprised about how power companies deal with trees though – for example pruning healthy conifers while a beetle-killed pine takes out power to 17th Ave in Valemount.

When I bought a house in Nova Scotia, I noticed a tree in the front yard had branches growing close to the power line along the road, so I called the power company. They eventually let me know yes, those branches were a concern, and they would be removing them. I wasn’t home when the crew came, but afterwards I was surprised to see that a number of branches had been lopped off about 8-12 inches from the trunk.

I don’t know that much about trees, but I know when you cut a branch of a deciduous tree that far away from the trunk, it will often sprout many more branches, especially a willow.

I was even more surprised to recognize that most of these branches had actually sprouted from earlier cuts far away from the trunk, and I can only guess these cuts were made in previous years by the same crews. My sense of responsibility for my own property made me feel like I should be doing something more permanent about that tree, whose branches will grow back and cause more concern, but I am clearly not qualified to fall a tree near a power line. Next I wondered if the power company might have spent its money (and by extension, my money, since I would be paying for their work in rate increases) more wisely, by properly falling that tree instead of trimming its branches.

Here in BC, I am wondering the exact same thing.

Residents in Valemount have complained about the mess left in their yards recently, and the odd-looking trimming jobs by BC Hydro’s contractors. It seems to be part of routine maintenance that BC Hydro does periodically, and they have some information on their website about trees and power lines, but it is confusing.

According to the website, BC Hydro has a “Vegetation Management” team that regularly inspects trees and other vegetation near lines, and if they find an issue that requires more than routine pruning, they may leave a note on your door and contact you before doing that work. They don’t contact you for routine work, they just do it.

We are left with trees of all types all over the community that are still close to the power line, still taller than the power line, and I would suggest, now more susceptible to disease, rot, and potentially falling over, because they now have a different centre of gravity – they’ve lost half their branches on one side.

Meanwhile, standing gray – beetle-killed – pines that are clearly capable of taking out power lines are sitting untouched, just a few more feet away from the lines.

I don’t want to suggest under-ground power lines (well, I do, but that is really another issue), but I have to wonder if this methodology, or these policies are in our – or BC Hydro’s – best interest. Maybe they work better in cities, but I recall hearing about some regulations in Vancouver that stipulate only certain trees – short trees – can be planted along streets. Clearly rural and northern areas are different, the trees are there already, and often grow back as they wish, not as we plan. Trees are not a new issue, but I think it may be time to review and change how they are dealt with along power lines.