Routine Operations and Maintenance to Reduce Fire Risk on Utility Rights-of-Way

UT IM-2021-004
Instruction Memorandum

December 7, 2020

In Reply Refer To:
2800 (UT-921) P


EMS TRANSMISSION
Instruction Memorandum No. UT IM-2021-004
Expires: 12/31/2023

To: BLM Utah District Managers, Field Managers, and Realty Specialists

From: State Director

Subject: Routine Operations and Maintenance to Reduce Fire Risk on Utility Rights-of-Way
Program Area: Lands and Realty, Cadastral, Fire and Fuels, Biological and Cultural Resources,
Forestry and NEPA.

Purpose: To establish policy regarding routine operations and maintenance activities on electric
utilities’ rights-of-way (ROW) to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Administrative or Mission Related: Mission.

Policy/Action: Electric transmission and distribution facility ROW holders have the authority to conduct routine operations and maintenance (O&M) activities within their ROW (see 43 CFR 2805.14(a)). ROW holders must also do everything reasonable to reduce the risk of wildfires within or in the immediate vicinity of their ROW area, 43 CFR 2805.12(a)(4); and comply with project-specific terms, conditions, and stipulations, including any requirements to control or prevent damage to property, and public health and safety 43 CFR 2805.12(a)(8)(iii). To prevent the risk of wildfire, Field Offices should encourage ROW holders to conduct routine O&M activities for their facilities on public land. In taking such actions, ROW holders are responsible for ensuring their activities comply, to the maximum extent practicable, with all applicable state and federal laws (see 43 CFR 2805.12(a)(1)).

To facilitate and expedite O&M activities necessary to reduce the risk of wildfire, Field Offices should immediately notify ROW holders they are authorized and responsible to carry out O&M work to prevent wildfire and request they notify the appropriate Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Office within 30 days of completing such work, unless this timeframe is in conflict with applicable law and regulation. If the ROW holder determines O&M work is necessary to reduce the risk of wildfire, then Field Offices should not require the ROW holder to obtain any 2 additional notice to proceed or other form of prior approval before conducting this O&M work. 

To the extent the terms and conditions of a ROW grant generally require a notice to proceed or other form of prior approval before a ROW holder conducts O&M and other activities, such provisions should not be construed to apply to actions that have already been authorized, including those required under 43 CFR 2805.12(a)(4),43 CFR 2805.12(a)(8)(iii), or other applicable laws and regulations.

When coordinating with ROW holders, the BLM should request any holder undertaking O&M activities to prevent wildfire identify in writing, as soon as practicable, the location of the ROW and the activities undertaken (legal description, maps, etc.); access route; type of work; acreage of treatment area; equipment used; start and end dates; biological data or cultural survey data (cultural resource data must be submitted in a confidential folder supplied by each BLM office); best management practices used; utility company point of contact; and BLM serial number for the ROW. Field Offices will upload this data to a Utah State Office SharePoint site. Data collected will be incorporated into ongoing efforts to streamline ROW processes as well as facilitate ROW renewals and consolidations, where appropriate.

Field Offices will follow direction as set forth in Section 512 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act for ROW holders controlling vegetation associated with electric transmission or distribution lines. A vegetative sale contract may need to be prepared after work has been completed.

If necessary, O&M activities are required outside of the authorized ROW boundary area, the Authorized Officer (AO) may permit these activities if it is determined necessary and reasonable. The reasonable and necessary determination shall be based on the degree of potential fire hazard for that particular ROW. In conjunction, a full NEPA analysis will not be required if the activities would not create significant additional surface disturbance or detrimentally impact other resources in the respective area. The AO will authorize this activity with a Categorical Exclusion, specifically with 516 DM 2, 1.12, amongst other required authorization documents.

In emergency scenarios created by unanticipated fire hazards (e.g., inclement weather causing branches to be blown near transformers), the AO would work with the ROW holder to authorize appropriate reduction/elimination techniques. The “emergency” status would be determined collaboratively by the respective AO with the ROW holder. The techniques used to accomplish
this should be the least intrusive necessary to reduce/eliminate the potential fire hazard.
The BLM will work with ROW holders to identify any follow-up actions or modifications required to implement this policy.

Field Office Realty Specialists have the lead for implementing this IM and will seek out fire and fuels, and cadastral guidance and direction when technical questions arise and require expertise with specific measures.

Timeframe: Effective immediately through December 31, 2023.

Budget Impact: The policy will have minimal budget impact, as ROW regulations allow the BLM to collect cost recovery fees from the ROW holder to cover the costs of monitoring the operation and maintenance activities of permanent or temporary facilities on public land. 

Background: In recent years, the number and scope of wildfires across the West has increased substantially. This destructive wildfire trend emphasizes the need for effective vegetation management and facilities maintenance to reduce the threat of wildfire in association with electrical transmission and distribution lines.

Secretary’s Order 3372, “Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land Through Active Management” (01/02/2019) builds upon Executive Order 13855, “Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.” The intent of this Order is to implement active vegetation management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Section 211 of Title 2 of Public Law 115-141 amended the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to add Section 512 titled “Vegetation Management, Facility Inspection, and Operations and Maintenance Relating to Electrical Transmission and Distribution of Facility Rights-of-Way.” This regulation acknowledges it may be necessary to address conditions outside a ROW to prevent wildfire. 

WO IM 2018-070 emphasizes routine vegetation maintenance is the responsibility of the electrical utility facility owners, and to the extent feasible, the BLM will address vegetation management issues without the need for additional authorizations and processes.

Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: None. This guidance does not supersede or negate any requirements imposed by state or federal law or national BLM policy. Utilities within the State of Utah were required to complete Wildland Fire Protection Plans but these in no way supersede BLM direction found within this IM and in most cases complements these efforts. 

Coordination: This IM was coordinated with associated Headquarters and State Office Programs.

Contact: Questions concerning this IM should be directed to the Utah State Office ROW team at
801-539-4105.

Office

United States Department of the Interior
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Utah State Office

Fiscal Year

2021