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Case Study: Clearing Trees and Brush in Difficult Terrain

By Valerie Van Kooten

 Clearing trees and brush around high-voltage power lines can be a problem. Throw in a rugged, rocky terrain and environmental factors, and you have a bigger problem. This was the situation facing Rich Kingsborough and his crew at Atlas Tree in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Atlas Tree has been providing brush and tree clearing work for a northern California power company for some time. But the job Atlas Tree was tasked with near Redding, Calif. was part of a two-year contract that combined several difficult situations into one location.

“These are existing power lines, cross country lines, that have higher voltage and feed the smaller lines,” said Kingsborough, president of Atlas Tree. “These aren’t like the lines you see in your front yard — we’re going over steep hills and back country to reach them. The terrain is very rocky and difficult to navigate.”

The lines could also be in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the Atlas Tree crew was 10 miles from the nearest paved road. They needed to rely on the forest roads, which are often poorly marked trails. One wrong turn, and they could have been lost for hours.

Along with difficult terrain, Atlas Tree had to consider the additional factor of environmental issues. They needed to be careful not to disturb environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands, creek crossings, or areas containing endangered or protected vegetation. One of those protected plants is the elderberry, which is the host plant of an endangered caterpillar. Before they began clearing an area, the six crew members of Atlas Tree went into an area and tagged those bushes and trees that are protected. Those trees and bushes were not be removed or trimmed by the crew members.

Kingsborough knew that getting a towable brush chipper to the site — and then being able to leave a small environmental footprint — was going to be difficult. He also knew that a towable brush chipper could not traverse the rocky terrain and that his crew would need to move material to the chipper, adding considerable time to the project.

“We decided the most environmentally friendly and efficient way was to use track-mounted equipment with very low ground pressure,” said Kingsborough. “Otherwise, there would have been an extreme amount of hand work involved.”

Most of what was being chipped was large woody bushes, along with some small oak trees, pine and fir trees, some of which can be more than 100 feet tall and 12 inches in diameter. A special problem was Manzanita bushes, which are found largely in the western United States and northern Mexico. This low-lying bush can produce very crooked trunks with hard wood.

For the Redding project, Atlas Tree used a Vermeer BC1400TX track-mounted brush chipper. According to Kingsborough, the track-mounted chipper allowed the Atlas Tree crews to access the brush and make easy work of the difficult material.

The job allowed for Atlas Tree to broadcast the chips on the site at no more than 6 inches deep.

The chipper’s wireless remote control was used to operate the unit, which allowed one crew member to run the chipper and can flip a switch to hydraulically turn the chute thus preventing a build-up of mulch, said Kingsborough.

According to Kingsborough, due to the environmentally sensitive areas at this location, all of the trees and bushes had to be cut and chipped by hand, with the total area being treated about 19 acres of solid brush.

“We estimated that it would take about four days per acre to complete this, based on previous similar jobs,” he said. However, the Atlas crews operated at a pace of more than one-half acre per day with the track-mounted chipper.

Specifications for the job required 35 feet of safe clearance around the power lines, most of which are 500-kV. Atlas Tree gave the company approximately 50 feet of clearance.

“A lot of it was solid brush and you couldn’t even walk through it,” said Kingsborough. “Now it looks like a park.”


Valerie Van Kooten is a technical writer with Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.


[ital>Article provided by Vermeer Manufacturing Company, Pella, Iowa.<ITAL]

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