Chugach Electric Association and the Anchorage Fire Department are continuing a partnership started in 2005 to remove dead and dying trees in the Municipality of Anchorage. The trees — most often beetle-killed spruce — are classified as "danger trees" that put the electric system at risk and provide a fuel source for wildfires. The work this year — in the Bird and Indian areas — follows similar efforts by the two organizations in the Municipality over the past two years.
"Danger trees" are located outside of Chugach's rights of way. They are considered a danger because they have the potential to fall on a power line and cause an outage. Chugach regularly clears its rights of way and has an ongoing in-house program to cut danger trees. Under its own program, with the permission of property owners Chugach drops danger trees safely to the ground and leaves them for the landowner. The AFD-funded work goes a step further and pays for Chugach's contractor to remove the downed trees from the property. This year, because of the age of the trees, most of them must be climbed and removed piece by piece.
"It's a win-win situation for everyone," said Chris O'Brien, Chugach's Arborist. "The fire department wins because we're reducing the fuel load throughout the Municipality. Chugach wins because we're removing danger trees that would have a high probability of hitting the power lines and we're reducing the fuel load around the power facilities. And it's a win for the homeowner because they benefit from having hazardous trees removed from their property, plus they get the benefit of a clear, defensible space in the event of a fire."
The project targeting Turnagain Arm communities started in mid-June and is expected to be completed by late August. The work was funded as part of an ongoing effort to address wildfire concerns. The AFD has been using federally appropriated funds for a variety of wildfire mitigation projects in recent years.
"Removing danger trees is always an excellent tactic in mitigating the hazards associated with wildfire," said Sue Barkwood, a forester with the Anchorage Fire Department Wildfire Mitigation Office. "The spruce bark beetle epidemic has left trees that are weak at the bases and primed to fall over in a strong wind."
Because the trees being cut are outside the utility right of way, property owners must give their OK to Chugach and the AFD before the contractor can do the work. Safety is a key concern when cutting trees near electric facilities. Chugach uses a contractor that employs qualified line clearance tree trimmers to work around its energized power lines.
For more information on the danger tree programs, contact AFD at 267-4902 or Chugach at 762-7660.
Chugach is the largest electric utility in Alaska, providing power for Alaskans throughout the Railbelt through retail, wholesale and economy energy sales.