The U.S. Forest Service is adept at exploring new frontiers. The most recent one? Electric trucks.
The federal government is launching an experiment lasting 12 months to determine if batteries-powered pickups can handle the challenge of traversing some of the nation’s most remote and rugged areas for operations in the field.
In the Biden administration aiming for all new vehicles in the government that are electric before 2035, this first-of-its-kind program provides a chance to allow officials of the Forest Service to see how the Ford F-150 Lightning performs in different conditions and evaluate the way its towing capacity, range, and other features are compared to those of gas-powered trucks currently used.
“As one of the premier land management agencies, we’re about conservation, we’re about enhancing the environment, and so this is the right thing to do, to start to move away from the vehicle emissions that we currently are producing,” said Gina Owens, regional forester for the agency’s eastern region. “We’ve got a ways to go, and we need to be doing our part, so this test is an important first step.”
Forest Service officials announced the pilot program on Friday in Ford’s manufacturing plant situated in Dearborn, Mich., which was accompanied by a horse, a Ford Model T, and a sparkling newly-designed F-150 Lightning, representing the development of the agency’s transportation options since its inception around 1903.
“We’re ushering in a whole new fleet of workhorse in the 21st century,” said James Simino, forest supervisor for the Huron-Manistee National Forests.
Huron-Manistee is in Michigan, Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, and White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire are each testing the F-150 Lightning, the vehicle that Kelley Blue Book has called the “best electric truck” on the market. The Forest Service was able to purchase the trucks after it was announced that the General Services Administration made them available to the agencies last year.
The trucks are fitted with four-wheel drive, which can provide up to 7,700 pounds of towing capacity, and the range is 230 miles when fully charged. They can be set overnight by using the included Level 2 charger that does not require additional infrastructure.
Much of the current research into electric vehicles has been focused on the cost, environmental benefits, and consumer perceptions; the Forest Service’s study will evaluate the reliability and performance. The entire year-long test will allow officials the chance to examine the vehicles under a variety of conditions, including weather and terrain, and also to determine how employees like using the cars for their daily tasks.
“We know that the introduction of electric vehicles has tremendous [potential] to curb emissions, but what we don’t know very much about is how electric vehicles can work as land management tools,” Sonya Sachdeva, who is an official Forest Service research scientist, stated at the announcement. “We want to ensure that these vehicles are promoting safety, efficiency and functionality.”
The data collected can be utilized to understand better the advantages and drawbacks of electric trucks as well as to plan the future development of charging facilities.
Owens stated that she expects to hear worries regarding the reliability and range of electric vehicles from employees who aren’t with electric trucks. In the time that they made the Forest Service switch from horses to Model Ts at the beginning of the 20th century, some questioned whether they would likely have to be recharged on the road. However, in actual use, she added, the change “certainly has worked out well.”
“Change isn’t easy and uncomfortable. But this isn’t the first time that we’ve made changes to the manner we travel across the national forest,” Owens said. “We know we will encounter issues along this journey and will continually analyze them and figure out the best path forward because that’s what we do in the Forest Service.”