Last January, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. tried and failed to cut down a large pine tree in Potter Valley that a pair of bald eagles nest in. This January, after trying and failing again to remove the tree it has declared a hazard, the utility reports that it will be changing course.
“Undergrounding is now PG&E’s preferred solution for the lines on the Potter Valley property, and we are working with the landowner in an attempt to secure the necessary land rights,” said Ron Richardson, vice president of PG&E’s North Coast region, in a statement provided by PG&E spokeswoman Megan McFarland.
McFarland explained that over the past few weeks, “Richardson visited the site several times and spoke to members of the community on-site. He has also been in touch with our tribal relations representative, and these interactions have helped us better understand the perspectives of the stakeholders involved. We are working with the property owner on options and next steps.”
Richardson also noted that undergrounding of the power lines “allows us to protect our hometowns while also taking into account the values of our local tribe, property owners and environmental advocates.”
The tree had been scheduled to be removed last month, but environmental groups hoping to protect the tree reported in mid-January that the “Ponderosa pine snag” had received a “temporary reprieve … while negotiations continue between the company, the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, and environmental groups.”
According to a news release prepared by the Center for Biological Diversity, on Jan.12 PG&E “has committed to leaving the tree through Jan. 17 to allow for good faith discussions.”
Quoted in the release was Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity, who said: “There’s just no excuse for chopping down a tree that appears to be a favorite nesting site for this bald eagle pair. PG&E can and must take a different approach.”
A year ago, PG&E made similar attempts to cut down the tree, but backed off after being unable to gain access.
In January 2022, then PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said that an “in-house” expert had determined the large pine tree on Ridgeway Highway in Potter Valley was “dying” and in danger of falling into nearby power lines. Therefore, in order to fulfill its mandate of protecting public safety, Contreras said the utility was attempting to “remove the hazard tree.”
She confirmed there was a bald eagle nest in the tree, but she described it as having been deemed “inactive,” and that the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife had given the utility until Jan.15 to remove the tree without interfering with nesting season. If the tree were removed by Jan.15, she said, “that gives the birds time to move to other nests in the area.”
After being unable to gain access to the tree, due in part to a gathering of concerned citizens hoping to stop the removal of the tree, Contreras reported in January of 2022 that the utility had halted plans to remove the tree and would employ other mitigation measures until that August, when the critical nesting period had ended.