Natural Resource Stewardship

As one of California’s largest land owners, PG&E has a long history of managing lands and waters in a responsible and environmentally sensitive way. This includes protecting threatened and endangered species and their habitats, managing watershed lands that PG&E has committed to preserving in perpetuity, maintaining forest lands to minimize the threat of wildfire and managing vegetation around our overhead power lines so that customers experience fewer outages.

As we upgrade and maintain gas and electric facilities to meet customer needs, we work through a variety of programs and partnerships to ensure that we are able to deliver safe and reliable service while protecting wildlife and other important natural resources.

An Innovative Strategy for Protecting Habitat and Species

PG&E’s service area is home to hundreds of species that are protected by the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. In the late 1990s, we began pursuing Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to these sensitive species.

Through PG&E’s Habitat Conservation Plan, we strive to avoid and minimize impacts to sensitive species, such as burrowing owls.

In 2011, we marked the fourth year of our San Joaquin Valley Operations and Maintenance HCP, which is a 30-year permit covering our operations and maintenance activities and minor new construction in the region.

The HCP covers 23 wildlife and 42 plant species and enables PG&E to maintain our operations in a way that protects these species and the habitats in which they thrive. Highlights for 2011 included training 1,700 employees, as well as reaching more than 650 contractors with compliance reminders and training materials.

We are currently developing two additional HCPs, one for the San Francisco Bay Area region and another “multi-region” HCP for five other regions within PG&E’s service area. When these permits are completed and approved, they will benefit our customers by allowing PG&E to maintain our facilities more efficiently while also benefitting the sensitive species that inhabit these regions. The HCPs also promote a more holistic view of habitat conservation, since mitigation to compensate for impacts is done on a landscape, rather than parcel-by-parcel, basis.

PG&E strives to avoid and minimize impacts to habitats and species wherever possible. When impacts cannot be avoided, we work in partnership with local land trusts and land management organizations to compensate appropriately, as required by law (and our HCP permit). While this mitigation is required, doing so in concert with broader conservation goals is voluntary. Typically, our strategy is to invest in parcels that contribute to larger landscape conservation goals and benefit a broad set of species, rather than focusing on smaller, separate parcels.

The Center for Natural Lands Management procures, holds title to and manages the mitigation land that PG&E is required to provide under the HCP permit, working closely with PG&E and under the regulatory oversight of state and federal agencies. As part of the arrangement, PG&E established an endowment with the Center that produces a revenue stream that supports the costs of implementing a management plan in perpetuity for the lands.

This map shows areas where we have acquired lands or conservation easements or purchased habitat mitigation credits as part of our San Joaquin Valley Operations and Maintenance HCP, totaling nearly 420 acres.

Click image to see full map

The map also shows an additional area that we added to our mitigation portfolio in 2011—Tivy Mountain East, a 24-acre site in Fresno County that contains habitat for the threatened Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle. The site is owned by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy and located adjacent to lands protected by the Bureau of Land Management. The conservation easement will protect the land from commercial development or use. PG&E expects to complete the transaction by the end of 2012.

Additional acquisitions are expected during 2012 to complete the first five years of the San Joaquin Valley O&M HCP advance mitigation. Pending approvals are filed with both the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sustainably Managing Our Watershed Lands

PG&E’s land stewardship efforts range from sustainable forestry and fire prevention on PG&E-owned forest lands to the permanent protection of more than 140,000 acres in collaboration with the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council.

Sustainable Forestry and Fire Prevention

Before (top) and after photos show the results of PG&E’s efforts to restore native aspen stands.

Creating healthy forests through sustainable practices on PG&E’s 52,000 acres of forest lands has long been a priority. Healthy forests minimize fire danger and, as a result, better protect the public, important infrastructure and habitat needed by plants and animals to survive and flourish. Healthy forests also help address climate change by sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Key elements of our sustainable forestry efforts include maintaining lands to help prevent the spread of wildfires, engaging nearby communities in wildfire prevention programs and using seeds collected from our seed orchard for restoration of healthy, diverse and productive forests.

In 2011, PG&E continued to help restore native aspen stands in the forests we manage. Aspen trees help indicate the health of a watershed and provide important habitat for many diverse wildlife and plant species; they also serve as natural “fuel breaks” from wildfires. In fact, PG&E has developed a program to guide our aspen enhancement efforts across our properties. At each site, PG&E manually and mechanically removes encroaching conifers from within and adjacent to aspen stands. Doing so allows additional sunlight to reach the forest floor and enables mature aspen trees to produce new sprouts and regenerate enhanced aspen stands.

Last year, PG&E restored approximately 80 acres of aspen stands in eastern Shasta County, the largest area of aspen stands that we have focused on to date.

Our Land Conservation Commitment

As part of our Land Conservation Commitment, PG&E continues to collaborate with the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council to permanently protect some of California’s most beautiful watershed lands—totaling more than 140,000 acres.

At an elevation of 5,000 feet, Mountain Meadows is the uppermost reservoir in PG&E’s North Fork Feather River Hydro System.

Working with the Stewardship Council, PG&E is donating conservation easements and/or ownership in watershed lands to public agencies or qualified conservation organizations to enhance or preserve numerous beneficial uses, including natural habitat for wildlife, fish and plants; open space; sustainable forestry; agriculture; outdoor recreation by the public; and historical values.

The Stewardship Council was created in 2004 as an independent organization to oversee the implementation of PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment. This oversight includes the development of a Land Conservation Plan that describes the long-term management objectives for the watershed lands and provides recommendations for fee and conservation easement donees to receive interests in the lands. PG&E funds the Stewardship Council annually and holds one seat on the Council’s Board of Directors.

In 2011, the Stewardship Council recommended that PG&E donate more than 18,000 acres to public agencies or qualified conservation organizations. Additionally, they recommended donees for conservation easements on another 23,000 acres; PG&E will continue to hold title to these lands, subject to the conservation easements.

Click on the map below to see additional details on the recommendations. PG&E has initiated negotiations with many recommended donees. The Stewardship Council will continue to recommend donees on the remaining acres.

Map of recommendations from the Stewardship Council
Click image to see full map

PG&E and the Stewardship Council continue to connect disadvantaged kids with the outdoors through the Youth Investment Program. Since 2006, the Stewardship Council has awarded more than $12 million to over 180 organizations, affecting the lives of about 260,000 youth in PG&E’s service area.

Through these grants, the Stewardship Council has supported projects that include:

  • Investing in more than 25 community park projects across California to rebuild open space and outdoor play areas;
  • Launching a pilot program to recognize teachers who have connected youth to the outdoors in exemplary ways; and
  • Hosting regional gatherings for outdoor education providers.

Moving forward, the non-profit Foundation for Youth Investment (FYI) will continue the work of the Youth Investment Program. FYI’s mission is to develop and transform underserved youth by investing in effective programs and creating strategic initiatives that connect kids to the outdoors. In 2011, the Stewardship Council provided FYI a $600,000 grant to develop an Outdoor Educators Program and agreed to transfer administration of the remaining grantmaking programs to FYI beginning in 2012.

Habitat Mitigation and Restoration

PG&E carries out a variety of habitat mitigation and restoration activities to fulfill state and federal regulatory requirements and to support voluntary environmental initiatives. Last year, our efforts enhanced or restored more than 330 acres of habitat and six miles of stream and river riparian vegetation.

TIP: Click on the items in the chart legend to selectively remove or restore chart data.

1 PG&E undertook these activities to meet various regulatory requirements, with the exception of 2.5 acres of PG&E-owned property that PG&E voluntarily restored in 2009.

Photo of Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle.

Under the direction of the federal Endangered Species Act, PG&E protects the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle (VELB), which relies solely on elderberry shrubs for food, shelter and reproduction. To meet this commitment, we proactively created a VELB Conservation Program in 2002 and evaluate and approve each elderberry shrub before trimming or removal.

To date, to compensate for impacts to beetle habitats from our tree trimming, we have permanently protected more than 975 acres of high-quality beetle habitat, working in partnership with groups such as The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land and other organizations.

PG&E field personnel and contractors are required to complete annual environmental and Habitat Conservation Plan training with a focus on environmental compliance and protecting riparian habitat, migratory birds and their nests, and the VELB.

Protecting Birds

More than 300 species of migratory birds live within PG&E's service area in Northern and Central California, either on a permanent basis or during semi-annual migration along the “Pacific Flyway.” When these birds perch on power lines or utility poles, they can be electrocuted and cause electric outages and wildfires. Birds can also collide with power lines while in flight.

At the Don Pedro Recreation Area, PG&E installed several nest platforms to protect large birds, such as osprey.

Using helicopters, PG&E crews safely deployed “bird flight diverters” on 100 spans of electric line near the Woodbridge reservoir. These devices have proven to reduce waterfowl collisions with power lines.

Under state and federal laws, PG&E has an important responsibility to protect birds. Doing so also improves the reliability of our electric service.

In 2002, PG&E entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement various bird protection measures. When the initial agreement expired in 2007, we voluntarily adopted an Avian Protection Plan. Designed to protect migratory, threatened and endangered birds while improving system safety and electric reliability for our customers, this plan is one of the most comprehensive in the nation.

To help ensure we meet our compliance obligations, we offered a comprehensive training in 2011 to 5,500 employees and contractors. The training included guidance on how to make poles and equipment bird-safe and how to properly report and track all avian electrocutions or collisions.

Since 2002, PG&E has made approximately 20,400 existing utility poles and towers bird-safe. In 2011, we narrowly fell short of our annual target for these annual retrofits (see chart below), due to the need to focus on other operational priorities.

Since 2002, we have also retrofitted approximately 22,900 utility poles in areas where bird injuries, fatalities or bird-related power outages have occurred. All new poles and replacement poles in our designated “Raptor Concentration Zone” are also built to be bird-safe.

We also continue to take steps to protect birds at our facilities, such as surveying substations where burrowing owls reside. In fact, several owl families have made their homes in the artificial nest sites that we enhanced at our Weber substation in Stockton in 2010.

In 2011, we also continued our Owl Safe Program, which encourages the installation of owl nesting boxes mounted on dedicated poles, rather than utility poles. PG&E presented the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission with a $25,000 grant to install these nesting boxes in vineyards, where owls act as natural pest control. Given the level of customer interest, funding for this program continued in 2012.

Protecting Condors in Big Sur

In 2011, PG&E worked with a non-profit partner and government agencies to complete a major project to protect an endangered species. The $4.2 million project rerouted high-voltage power lines underground in a remote area near Big Sur in Monterey County, serving our customers in the area while offering vital protection to the endangered California condor.

With a wingspan of 9.5 feet and weight of up to 29 pounds, the California condor is North America’s largest flying land bird. Dating back more than 2.5 million years, the California condor nearly became extinct in the 1980s but its numbers are now climbing due to captive breeding and conservation programs. In particular, the Ventana Wildlife Society has been releasing captive-bred California condors into the wild near the coast of Big Sur since 1997.

However, electric power lines in Big Sur posed a risk to the birds. In particular, a three-mile electric distribution line owned by PG&E was responsible for three condor fatalities since 2001. Working with the Ventana Wildlife Society, PG&E attempted to reduce risk to the birds by hanging “bird flight diverters” (circle-like rings intended to serve as a visual alert) on the lines, but it became clear that a more sustainable solution was required.

In 2011, after an extensive permitting process with state and federal regulators and ongoing collaboration with the Ventana Wildlife Society, PG&E successfully re-routed the three-mile electric line underground. The project involved preparing an underground trench and conduit, then pulling the wire and energizing the new line. PG&E then removed the above-ground conductors and poles.

Doing so removes the threat to the condors and will provide better, more reliable service to customers by protecting the line from the fires and harsh storms that can occur along the remote Big Sur coast. When installing the underground line, PG&E also avoided harming plants that host endangered butterflies in the area.

PG&E continues to support the Ventana Wildlife Society’s condor recovery program, contributing $60,000 over the past two years.

View a video on this pioneering project.

TIP: Click on the items in the chart legend to selectively remove or restore chart data.

Vegetation Management

Each year, PG&E manages more than 50 million trees along high-voltage transmission and distribution power lines across our service area for public safety and electric reliability. To prevent trees from growing or falling into power lines, we inspect all overhead power lines and trim or remove more than one million trees each year deemed to be a potential hazard. The work is performed by 350 consulting utility arborists and foresters and more than 1,200 Cal OSHA-qualified line clearance contractors.

PG&E recognizes the important value of trees, and we do everything possible to preserve them while maintaining safe and reliable electric service. However, trees that conflict with power lines can present risks to public safety and are a leading cause of electric power outages. Such conflicts can result in injuries to the public, as well as wildfires that damage property and the environment. Additionally, because PG&E’s transmission lines are part of the interstate grid, PG&E’s vegetation management program promotes the stability of the electric grid across the Western United States and Canada and lowers the likelihood of a widespread blackout.

PG&E educates the public on “power line friendly” tree planting near distribution lines, planting for energy efficiency and related topics. More broadly, PG&E also communicates the importance of keeping vegetation a safe distance from transmission lines.

PG&E is required by law to keep the lines clear. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s Standard FAC-003-1 applies to bulk transmission lines and is intended to prevent a large-scale transmission outage. This national standard was developed in response to the Northeast blackout of 2003 and subsequent Congressional mandates. It requires that transmission line owners like PG&E have a vegetation management program to maintain minimum clearances, a mitigation plan and process for dealing with imminent threats.

As with any work, PG&E makes every effort to work with landowners and public agencies to resolve concerns to reach mutually agreeable solutions to meet the new federal standards.

Our efforts also include adhering to industry standards for utility arborculture and maintaining a robust public education program. For example, we showcase our nationally recognized “Right Tree, Right Place” campaign through community events such as fairs and home and garden shows, tree plantings and partnerships with cities, agencies, fire safe councils and universities. This campaign helps educate the public on the proper selection of trees under or near power lines.

PG&E has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA recipient for 17 consecutive years for demonstrating practices that achieve the dual goals of safe and reliable electric service while protecting and enhancing urban forests.