Spotlight on Vegetation Management

Did you know trees are the top cause of power outages at Cloverland Electric Cooperative?

Living in the Upper Peninsula provides a nearly panoramic view of lush, green forests, but it comes with a cost to power service when severe weather strikes. While no human controls the weather, Cloverland Electric Cooperative’s Vegetation Manager, Matt Birk has a unique role of managing vegetation growth in the cooperative’s rights of way while maintaining the health and beauty of the land we call home.

A born and raised Yooper, Birk knew his future career path involved working in the outdoors. Birk discovered an interest in trades while working with a vegetation management company for the cooperative in high school. This valuable field experience in high school propelled him to his future career path in vegetation management. After graduating from Alpena Community College’s Utility Technology program, Birk was hired as a lineman at Cloverland’s DeTour division. The DeTour division handles many rural areas and numerous islands, which gave Birk essential time learning in the field. When a staking technician position opened in Newberry, Birk decided to move back home and transferred to the cooperative’s Newberry division.

Years of field experience as a lineman and a staking technician provided a valuable framework for Birk’s promotion to vegetation manager. With three years of experience in the role, Birk has enhanced the cooperative’s vegetation management program with data driven goals. In 2022, the cooperative contracted with two different tree trimming companies, Asplundh and Tree’s LLC, with the goal to trim over 540 miles of line.

‘All Cloverland lines are on a rotating schedule of service,” Birk states. “We have a solid schedule in place that will assist with tree related outages in coming years.”

Birk’s role in managing a well-maintained right of way increases Cloverland’s system reliability through decreased tree related outages and increases safety for all five-line divisions, electronic technicians and staking technicians as they perform field work each day.

The cooperatives recent right of way assessment was an asset to the vegetation management program as it studied sections of the cooperative’s utility line including tree species, tree disease, overhang, outage tickets from previous years and soil classification. Once completed, a digital program with a cyclical vegetation management calendar was provided to the cooperative.

“The right of way assessment was critical in forming a data driven plan for our vegetation management program,” Birk states. “Some areas of the service territory have more tree trimming needs than others, and this program uses data to ensure we are targeting areas benefiting both the cooperative and our members.”

Birk also manages two bucket trucks handling tree trimming requests from the cooperative’s members. In 2021, Birk worked with contractors and line crews to resolve over 565 member and storm related tree trimming requests. Member’s tree trimming requests often include trees growing too close, or already overhanging the cooperative’s right of way. Resolving these issues in advance, assists with weather related outages in the future.

On any given day, Birk can be found patrolling lines, managing contractors, working with member requests and hours of driving across the cooperative’s five county service territory to meet with line crews and division managers.

When asked about his favorite part of the job Birk proclaims, “The drive to the division offices may be long, but I love catching up with my co-workers and friends. There are great people working at Cloverland.”

Birk’s field training and education are already an asset to the cooperative, but he plans to grow his skills by obtaining his certified arborist license in the future. This goal will assist Birk in preserving and maintaining both the cooperative’s rights of way and the abundant forests that thrive through Cloverland’s service territory.

By: Abby (Bell) Moran

Tree Trimming 2022. Asplundh: Sault, Sugar Island, Dafter, Bruce, Bay Mills and Superior townships. Trees LLC: Sault, Bay Mills, Pickford, Hiawatha, Thompson, Manistique, Garfield, Newton and Portage townships.
Tree Trimming schedule 2022