Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thousands of Saguaros Cut for Power Lines

Az Republic, Jan. 30, 2009

Thousands of saguaros have been eliminated along an electric power
line that runs 257 miles from the Navajo Generating Station near Page
to a substation near Sun City.

Arizona Public Service Co. said the cactuses and other vegetation
were removed for safety and to avoid fines from federal regulators.

The dustup highlights tough choices utilities make to maintain a
reliable power supply and the limited options that land managers
often have to balance utility paths with preserving plants and

Saguaros sprout gaggles of arms and can take 70 years before
sprouting an arm. Their iconic shape has helped identify Arizona's
landscape in everything from Roadrunner cartoons to the back of the
state quarter.

Much of the route for the line is high desert or forest, but so far
10 miles have been cleared in saguaro habitat. Saguaros are strictly
protected on public lands outside of utility right of ways.

Each mile of line has 100 to 500 saguaros in the right-of-way under
the power lines, and there are 24 miles to be cleared, although there
are fewer saguaros near western metro Phoenix. The plan calls for all
saguaros within 50 feet of the wires to be removed.

About 100 of the plants are being relocated when it's possible and
reasonable, but big mowers have turned the majority into green pulp
spread on the desert floor.

Arizona Public Service spokesman Alan Bunnell said the utility
decided to clear brush under the line that was built in the late
1960s and early 1970s because federal regulators have clamped down on
vegetation along power lines.

The ulitity could be fined for not clearing the brush, he said. And
electricity arcing from the power line into one of the water-dense
saguaros or a brushfire could interrupt energy supplies.

"It is strictly an issue of safety and reliability," Bunnell
said. "No doubt, it is not an easy decision for us to remove any
vegetation, especially a saguaro. We respect and admire those
majestic plants."

It costs the company $750 to $2,500 per plant to relocate the

The line crosses Bureau of Land Management, state, forest, tribal and
private lands.

"The bottom line is, they can do what they want (in the power-line
right of way)," said Rem Hawes, the BLM manager who authorized the
Arizona Public Service project on 27 miles of federal land.

Forty-nine of the saguaros under the power line on BLM land will be
salvaged, he said.

It is otherwise illegal to remove saguaros from public lands, and
landowners need a permit from the state Agriculture Department to
move them from their own property.

BLM officials said selling the plants or even their skeletons, which
are popular for landscaping and other decorations, was off the table.

The agency decided the plants should be shredded to preserve the soil
nutrients, spokeswoman Pamela Mathis said.

Other landowners along the power line where saguaros are located
could make other arrangements, she said.

Bunnell said Arizona Public Service can't sell the plants because it
doesn't own the land.

Bob Mitchell, a recreational prospector from Phoenix, filmed a big
mower liquefying a saguaro in the Black Canyon City area on Jan. 24
and posted the video on his Web site and on YouTube

"To see a large company such as APS totally devastating their utility
right of way . . . struck a nerve, frankly," he said. "I understand
they are within their rights to do so. Yet, I also believe it to be
overly damaging and absolutely hypocritical to be allowed by the same
agencies that keep such tight controls on us prospectors and claim


Information from: The Arizona Republic,

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