The Gravity of Tree Felling

By Aaron Byer for New Urban Forestry in Athens, Georgia.


Everyone knows someone who has cut down a tree. A friend, neighbor, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, aunt, uncle, or "that guy". All of these examples are usually followed by a story of how "they dropped that tree right where they wanted" or, alternatively, "he crushed my car and we never spoke again." While those are the extremes, it does surprise me that people do not take what is statistically one of the most dangerous jobs in the world more seriously.

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As I have come up through the industry, I have seen unsafe urban tree care practices far too often. There seems to be an abundance of untrained operators; the necessity to put food on the table or simply the "macho man" feeling that follows that rush of adrenaline, can make it unappealing to seek the proper training and operate under the safety standards.

There is a common misconception that all tree workers are crazy adrenaline junkies just hoping to make it through the day with their limbs still attached. This occupation requires focus and dedication. Properly trained climbing arborists are highly skilled and have spent years honing their craft. They have learned through study and field experience the safest ways to perform their job and the best ones go into every day open to learning something new. They have sought out the best people to work with because they are passionate about what they do. Professional companies spend a tremendous amount of time and money training new employees and keeping up with the latest innovations and safety guidelines.

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While performing consultations, I often will discuss proper pruning techniques and plant health care for my clients' trees. These clients are interested in having a trained professional care for their trees to maintain their health and structural integrity and trust us to perform our work professionally. However, at times when we approach a tree that they would like to remove, they will say, "Don't worry about that removal, my husband can do that" or "We have a guy who can take down trees for us; we just need you guys to take care of the trees we want to keep." This implies that it takes less care and skill to perform a tree removal. After all, "What could go wrong? They just have to cut it down."

A one foot length of a 20" Diameter red oak log weighs almost 140 pounds. A 90-foot- tall tree with a full crown can weigh several tons. An arborist takes time to understand the biology and structure of a tree through study and field experience to understand the proper steps to be taken to remove trees safely with complete control. A pre-job briefing is performed to go over the steps that will be used to ensure safety to the client, their property, and the crew. Special care is taken with state of the art equipment to keep workers out of potentially dangerous situations. Many injuries and deaths are due to lack of knowledge. Properly trained personnel can identify potentially dangerous situations before work begins and take steps to remove these risks.

Next time you consider removing a dead or dying tree from your property, please consider the potential risks involved in making the cut. Hiring a professional for the job, someone knowledgeable and skilled, could make a bigger difference than you think.