Stop! Don’t Pick Up an Axe until You Pick Up the Phone

Before cutting trees or undergrowth on or near a TVA reservoir, a property owner’s first call should be to TVA. We’ll answer questions and help you avoid possible costly mistakes.

It’s tempting! Cutting down vegetation to create a path to the water or enhance a lake view may seem like a great idea, but don’t sharpen that axe just yet. What appears to be pure inspiration might be detrimental to the environment and even illegal.

“Vegetation removal for improved views and water access are the most common types of unauthorized vegetation removals on TVA property,” says Randy Short, TVA Forester. “It’s not unusual for TVA land to exist between lake homes and the water, so property owners can get confused about what’s theirs and what is TVA’s. When they clear vegetation, they’re often not aware that they’re encroaching on TVA land.”

Why all the fuss?
Sometimes it’s difficult for property owners to understand why TVA places such importance on unauthorized vegetation removal. The answer has been around since 1933, when TVA was charged by Congress with the proper management and stewardship of federally owned land acquired for the public good.

“Part of our stewardship is to manage the land in a way that benefits not only individuals, but also the natural resources located there,” explains Short. “All stages of vegetation development have specific qualities that make them unique and important to other forms of life. Trees are especially vital due to the extended amount of time it takes them to achieve maturity.”

When an individual removes trees and other vegetation, they also remove associated benefits such as animal habitat. This unauthorized vegetation removal negatively impacts everything from microscopic insects to pollinators to watchable wildlife to threatened and endangered species, all of which help sustain the ecosystem. Sadly, these are not isolated events, as TVA’s Natural Resources department sees these occurrences at least once a week on average.

What is Encroachment?
Typically, when unauthorized vegetation removal occurs on TVA property, an assessment of the disturbed area is performed in an effort to determine what was removed from the property and if there were any damages to resources or critical habitat. If there is a loss of value, TVA determines the total impact, and pursues corrective action with the responsible party. In other words, unauthorized vegetation removal could cost you!

Occasionally, if a tree appears to be a hazard or could potentially cause private property damage, the adjacent property owner can ask TVA to determine if the tree is a legitimate concern. If it is found to be a threat, TVA will determine the appropriate action and may issue the property owner a tree removal license.

Additionally, TVA can allow vegetation removal on specific TVA lands through the Section 26a Permitting and Land Use process. Some TVA properties allow for vegetation corridors and other types of vegetation removal through this procedure. Permission to remove vegetation may be granted where the adjacent property owner meets the necessary requirements for applying for such activities.

(Learn more here about applying for a 26a permit.)

The Bottom Line
Short says that avoiding an issue from the unauthorized removal of TVA vegetation is simple. Check first!

“Prospective buyers or owners of property on or near a TVA reservoir should do their homework,” he says. “That means reviewing deeds and survey maps to determine if there is TVA land adjacent to their property or if TVA retains any other rights at the location.”

If a landowner’s property is adjacent to TVA lands, owners should be aware of current boundaries or have the boundaries delineated by a certified surveyor before removing any vegetation which may be located on TVA property.

The bottom line is that owning property on or near a TVA reservoir comes with benefits, but also with responsibilities. Before removing vegetation, a phone call to (800) TVA-LAND can help property owners understand their role in supporting the environment, their river neighbors and the Tennessee River Valley.