Tree Foundation of Kern

Utility Arborist or Forester

To manage trees near utility lines

The management of trees growing near overhead utility lines can be a rewarding career for people who love the outdoors and enjoy physically challenging work.

While maintaining trees near utility lines is a nationwide concern, in California, utility companies are required to keep trees out of power lines, and the state spends approximately $100 million annually on line clearance. Utility arborists in the state are called on to provide regular maintenance of trees including pruning and removing or replacing inappropriate tree species near power lines. Trees damaged during storms are the second leading cause of power outages in the state, and utility arborists play a critical role in helping to restore power.

Utility arborists spend the majority of their time in the field working directly with trees but also provide the front-line of education for homeowners and others whose trees are affected by power line clearance issues. Utility arborists must be skilled in directional pruning to solve tree growth problems and help prevent trees growing back into power lines in the future. They also must have a strong knowledge of tree species and be able to educate the public in choosing appropriate species for planting near power lines.

Although construction regulations now require power lines to be laid underground, utility arborists will be in demand for some time to control trees near existing overhead power lines and transmission lines.

"Arboriculture is a great field if you enjoy the outdoors and physical work," said Scott Avlakeotes, area supervisor for Davey Tree in Sonoma County which contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric. As a supervisor, Avlakeotes is responsible for scheduling crews, overseeing work and maintaining documentation. Unlike some fields which have heavy seasonal demands, the career of utility arborist offers stability and security along with opportunities for advancement. "It's like anything else," Avlakeotes said. "The more you put into it, the bigger the return."

Nonprofit organizations also rely on utility arborists to help build sustainable urban forests. By removing nuisance trees near power lines and replacing them with properly pruned and desirable species, these organizations help utility arborists carry out their mission of "the right tree in the right place."

Salary: Apprentice climbers start at about $10 per hour. Foreman can earn up to $15 per hour.