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I’ll start this article with a disclaimer: I recognize that readers come from different roles and workplaces and this viewpoint may be difficult to appreciate, however, your role and workplace could change.

How many times have you been the recipient of persuasions to make every effort to retain trees? It might have started at college. Maybe at an ISA conference or course, in reference materials, or in an industry magazine. Arboriculture isn’t the only industry group receiving that message. Add urban planning, landscape architecture, horticulture, turfgrass management, etc. With these groups (and several others) receiving quality engagement on the benefits of retaining trees and what tools are needed (e.g. Skilled Arborists), could we be seeing radical change in the rate at which private and public urban trees are removed? Not quite.

My motivation for this blog entry is how many urban trees I have unnecessarily put to death for all sorts of reasons. The primary reason being revenue: when a client has a bee in their bonnet over leaf litter, the loss of their pristine views, the potential for root conflicts with services, or the threat of tree failure resulting in property damage or injury. Give the customer what they want, right?  It’s too easy to sell the kill. Even where strong tree protection bylaws exist, if you (the qualified assessor) are evaluating tree risk through a guilty-until-proven-innocent lens and can put together a typed-report that satisfied the terms of reference, I’m confident you will land a removal permit nine times out of ten.

We are now in an era of better utilization of materials from trees having to be “pruned from grade” in that every major tree care market now has multiple urban timber milling businesses that are thriving, many of them run by Arborists. Planners and Landscape Architects are utilizing felled materials for playgrounds, as urban art, and for naturalizing projects. The industry produces so much material and at such a great cost for disposal that we could find many more ways to value-add or recycle to offset the notoriously tight margins of competitive tree removal estimating. As an alternative to finding value- added opportunities for the abundant waste we process every day, we could try equally hard to keep trees standing whenever feasible, using our Arboricultural education, training and experience.

Our interpretation of internal decay is challenged because technology hasn’t yet enabled us to fully visualize the extent. The quality of our probability of failure of internal decay type-defects estimations are intrinsically linked to the time and effort invested to analyze the defect combined with the education, training and experience of the tree assessor. When we over-estimate the risk, we contribute directly to the larger problems of urban canopy diversity and density reduction. I also must acknowledge that we have a lot to lose if we underestimate tree risk.

Persuading a client to the value of retaining a tree that they’ve decided is a threat to their quality of life or personal safety is without question, exceedingly difficult. Retaining a tree rather than providing a one-time removal transaction is widely understood as a costlier venture, although it may not be as cut and dried if we appreciate that an owner’s tree is an asset, or infrastructure, rather than a lawn ornament. It is always worth making the effort to have this difficult conversation with our client -- as an individual, for a company, for your regional marketplace, and for the industry.  We have learned an awful lot about trees that we’ve cut down but had too few opportunities to learn from trees we’ve kept standing.

- Gary Oaks