The Growing Importance of Tree Inventory Databases

The Growing Importance of Tree Inventory Databases

Article

by Brian Sprinkle, Associate Technical Consultant

CN Utility Consulting (CNUC) Technical Applications Supervisor Brian Sprinkle wrote an article titled The Growing Importance of Tree Inventory Databases. The article was published in the summer issue of the Illinois Trees magazine. 

Utility vegetation management (UVM) has evolved tremendously over the last few decades, with mechanical engineering and UVM technologies showing great advancements. According to CN Utility Consulting’s 2014 Benchmark and Industry Intelligence report, it is estimated that the utility industry spends roughly $8 billion dollars on vegetation management annually. Inevitably, utility companies often face outages caused by falling tee and branches, which is costly and results in disgruntled customers. Although costly up front, it’s important to dedicate time and money to streamline vegetation management processes so that outages caused by natural disasters can be avoided. Tree inventory databases are under underestimated tool that can increase reliability, better estimate regular maintenance work, and help utility companies prepare for the unknown.

Tree Inventory Database

A tree inventory database allows a user to identify and track tree species around power lines. Every tree species has unique identifiers, including growth rates, root structures, crown structures, fiber arrangements and density. By utilizing a comprehensive species-specific tree inventory database, utility companies can establish a targeted tree program, work to limit certain species, and effectively budget for catastrophes or upkeep of specific trees.

Diseases

Diseases are another important factor to take consideration when managing vegetation around power lines. For example, chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, pine bark beetle, and emerald ash borer are all infestations that have attempted to wipe out entire tree species. Many utility companies were unprepared for these infestations, as they were unaware of the population of each species along their power lines. To target certain vegetation that is infectious or continuously causes outages, we can cross reference the reliability statistics and create a plan to limit that species.

Maintenance Pruning

In addition to preparing for catastrophes and controlling infestations, utility companies spend a lot of money on routine maintenance pruning. With a comprehensive tree inventory, they can use data from previous years to help plan work and identify locations where a mono-culture forest is present. Having this information at our fingertips and knowing the tree populations ahead of time can help create an accurate plan for tree trimming contractors. No two tree species are the same, and some trees will take longer to prune than others. By knowing the percentage of each species, we can more accurately estimate the work.

Because there are so many unknowns, now is the time for a change. Tree inventory databases can help the UVM industry be proactive when planning work. Adopting and maintaining a UVM tree inventory database is a small step in the right direction to help utility companies create efficient UVM plans and improve reliability, manage disease and control tree failures. Having this data and using it to our advantage will play a vital factor in the continued advancement of the UVM industry.

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