The Forest Service Is Leaning into Electric Vehicles
“The Forest Service is embarking on an exciting study of the first-ever use of electric vehicles in a natural resources field setting”
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The United States Forest Service (USFS) has begun transitioning its fleet of more than 17,000 vehicles from internal combustion to electric power. Right now, the agency is creating best practices and field testing three Ford F-150 Lightnings, which often must operate in remote areas and extreme weather conditions.
The effort will help the USFS comply with Executive Order 14057—Catalyzing America’s Clean Energy Economy Through Federal Sustainability—which directs all new federal agency light duty vehicle acquisitions to be zero-emission beginning in 2027, and acquisitions of all other vehicle types to be zero-emissions by 2035. The light duty vehicle category includes anything a normal consumer might buy: pickup trucks, sedans, and vans. Medium and heavy duty vehicles include things like buses, construction equipment, and fire trucks.
Operating in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, Michigan’s Huron-Manistee National Forest, and the White Mountain National Forest, which spans the New Hampshire-Maine border, the three vehicles will help USFS develop a strategy for implementing EVs nationally. The agency intends for the pilot studies to create a base of knowledge around optimizing fleet size, deploying charging infrastructure, and tracking social acceptance of the vehicles.
“The Forest Service is embarking on an exciting study of the first-ever use of electric vehicles in a natural resources field setting,” Jason Kirchner, a spokesperson for the agency tells Outside. “The research will determine the feasibility of electric vehicles in field-work settings, helping the agency determine the right tool for the job when it comes to electric fleet vehicles.”
Because the vehicles will frequently be operating off-road, and through inclement weather—the White Mountains, in particular, are famous for their extreme conditions—the knowledge base developed by this study will hold applicability to outdoor enthusiasts also eager to transition to electric vehicles.
Kirchner explains that the F-150 Lightning is the only EV pickup truck currently available through the Government Services Administration, which handles federal vehicle acquisitions. USFS is using the base version of the Lightning, which features a 230-mile range, four-wheel drive, and a 2,000-pound payload. Because the truck will be operated in a fleet setting where it will be recharged each night in a fixed location, it doesn’t require significant investments of infrastructure from the agency. Any USFS facility equipped with a standard 240-volt outlet will be capable of charging the vehicles. Fleet-spec F-150 Lightnings actually cost less money than basic consumer-level ICE F-150s.
USFS currently operates 8,775 light trucks, all of which EVs will begin to replace as they end their normal service lives. Kirchner says the goal is, “minimizing carbon emissions in the long run.”