As I was driving through the back roads of New York to work on Monday morning and was playing frogger with limbs and branches strewn all across various roads, I found myself wondering who is responsible for maintaining trees around the power lines.

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On Sunday night, a huge ash tree fell from our neighbor’s yard directly onto the power lines which service our road as well as neighboring roads, cutting off power to everyone. Almost as fast as the power went out, people took to social media to add their two cents about all of the dead ash trees that line most of the roads in our area and a debate was born – who is responsible for maintaining the trees located around power lines?

Some people swore that the power company should be responsible while others said the homeowners of the land on which the trees are rooted should maintain them. Others even said the government should take care of all the ash trees because of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect responsible for killing hundreds of millions of ash trees.

So, who is really responsible for the maintenance of trees around power lines? The answer comes in two parts.

According to Electrocuted, if the tree is on the property owner’s property near the power line that connects a person’s home to the utility pole, the general rule of thumb is that it’s up to the owner to trim trees and vegetation.

On the other hand, NYSEG says it will clear trees, branches, and other vegetation but only if such things are interfering with its electric lines and that the pruning it does follows the standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the guidelines of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). What this means is that if you've got a lovely big tree in the middle of your yard, for instance, and it's not right on top of power lines but if it were to topple or if branches were to fall off and onto power lines, the pruning or removing of the tree would be your responsibility.

NYSEG says that almost half of power outages are a result of trees. Remember that big blackout in August of 2009 that took out power to a huge chunk of the Northeast? The culprit was traced back to tree limbs falling on power lines as far away as Ohio.

NYSEG also notes that people should never prune trees that are located near power lines, and that doing so should be left to professionals. If you aren’t sure if a tree on your property could interfere with power lines or if you aren't sure what to do, you can always call a NYSEG forester at 800-572-1111.

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