An arborist working on a pipeline project? How good planning and good people help deliver Canada’s energy safely and responsibly

When building or maintaining a pipeline, trees need to be removed for safety reasons – either to accommodate safe access to the right of way (RoW) or to ensure the safety of the people working nearby.

CEPA members rely on professionals with the expertise to not only focus on safety, but on keeping the landscape as pristine and natural as possible.  So, how do transmission pipeline companies balance safety, regulations and environmental protection?

Well, it’s a combination of good planning, and good people.

Enter Matt McTavish.

Matt McTavish, an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist and horticulturalist, knows his trees.

A partner in McTavish Resource & Management Consultants Ltd., a family-owned environmental consulting firm in Vancouver, he has been working in urban forestry, arboriculture, horticulture, oil and gas and civil construction for more than 10 years. He says it is important to find a balance between developing our communities and industry as well as preserving the environments in which we live.

We asked McTavish to explain what he does, and how that benefits the people working on, and living near, pipeline projects.

Q: Can you describe how you determine which trees must be removed, and why?

A: Many factors are considered when determining the removal of trees on a utility RoW. Safety is paramount when it comes to pipelines and other infrastructure. Therefore, access and the ability to inspect the pipeline or utility is important.

Tree removal is required to accommodate construction when developing new infrastructure. We work very hard to limit our footprint and reduce the number of trees that will be removed. When trees of significance (cultural tree, heritage tree, old growth veteran tree) are encountered during planning, every effort is made to preserve them.

Q: Why do companies rely on your skills for this, instead of just removing the trees?

A: Companies rely on foresters and arborists to develop plans for tree removal because of our understanding of forest stewardship, management and ecology, much like an engineer would understand structural requirements for building a bridge.

Tree management plans include an inventory of trees that require removal. This is done to understand the species of trees suitable to the area for replanting, and to inform the municipality or land owner of what trees are proposed to be removed.

Tree management plans also define tree and root protection plans for trees adjacent to development or maintenance, and provide recommended tree species for replanting (outside RoW) once work activity is complete.

Q: Are trees  replanted once the pipeline is in place?

A: Trees outside the RoW and within temporary working spaces are replanted/reforested. The RoW is replanted with low-growing native shrubs and grasses so that safety and accessibility are not compromised.

We are careful to have a good understanding of the environment in which work is being conducted, so that the area will be successfully restored.

Q: Is safety a consideration when you are preparing a plan and determining which trees must be removed?

A: Trees, like any other living organism, develop diseases and die. When this happens, a danger tree assessment is performed by a qualified professional to evaluate the risk that the tree poses to the RoW and people that frequent it, including crews and the public. Some factors considered when determining tree removal include the presence and stage of disease, root system integrity, tree lean (degree and direction) and previous failure within the tree, such as a broken top.

Strict industry guidelines have been established by the International Society of Arboriculture and the Ministry of Environment. These are adhered to when a danger tree assessment is conducted.

Q: What environmental factors must you consider?

A: Many environmental factors are considered when developing tree management plans and plans for vegetation maintenance. We consider the influence of the trees on the ecosystem in which they reside. For example, if a tree exists near a stream or creek, it is most likely contributing to terrestrial habitat and instream habitat around it. Effort is made to protect those trees.

In some cases when a tree becomes diseased, it provides a food source for animals such as birds. Trees also provide homes for birds and mammals such as bears. These trees are classified as wildlife trees and efforts are made to preserve them when it is considered safe to do so.

When trees die naturally and fall over they gradually decompose and create soil nutrients and food for insects. When feasible, if a tree is being removed, we will distribute its wood back into the environment to minimize the impact on the natural order of the environment.

Q: What does the environment around the pipeline look like after development?

A: I think it will be noticeable that development has taken place, and this is true of any development project such as a highway, housing project or commercial development. However, we make every effort to mitigate the visual impact of development on the communities where we operate. Reclamation plans developed for pipeline projects are comprehensive.

After restoration is finished, there is a prescribed monitoring period. Monitoring is done to ensure that the environments that we have disturbed are successfully transitioning back to their natural state. If not, then we go back and address the issues that are preventing successful rehabilitation.

Matt is one of the hundreds of environmental professionals that work in the transmission pipeline industry to deliver Canada’s energy in the safest and most responsible way. To learn more, read about Matt’s work on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion or see this post on trees and right-of-ways.