Responding After The Storm

When the call goes out to tree service companies to work on widespread storm damage, anybody with a chain saw and a pickup can respond, but it’s the companies that are prepared and have experience in this field that excel and come out making money.

In general, there are three segments of storm response: preparation and planning, executing the tree work, and the cleanup and follow-up phase. The following companies have done this kind of arduous work after many storms in different areas of the country, and each has its own methodology for dealing with the fallout.

Storm damage crews must be highly skilled in the response phase, though more ground workers are required for the cleanup phase. Photo: Bartlett Tree Experts


“You’ve got to drop everything you’re doing. It’s very challenging from that standpoint,” says Ryan Lombardo, owner of Lombardo Management General Contractors of Atlanta, Georgia. He should know, his grandfather “traveled the storms” for years, and now Lombardo has set up a unique way of dealing with everyday tree services, as well as storm catastrophes.

A storm demands services bigger in scale than a company would normally be able to cope with, Lombardo says. A company must be prepared to ramp up its activities to the level demanded by its clients. LMGC is an unusual company, in that it has about 50 talented supervisors, some of them part-time workers, who contract on-the-ground work through a wide network of other companies in its service area and beyond.

In preparation for storm emergencies, LMGC maintains equipment that will be used only in the event of major storms. The company has responded to Louisiana hurricanes and ice storms in Massachusetts. It purchased 30-foot construction trailers outfitted with the communications and tree removal equipment needed on a large scale.

“We were in on the Katrina cleanup, and we could hardly make a phone call out,” says Lombardo, who explains that chaos and confusion ensue in a community hit by a major disaster. Thus, the company’s emergency trailers are equipped with satellite communications, Motorola radios that will reach out 15 miles and fuel supplies for up to two weeks of operation.

The trailers also store food, water and bunks for sleeping, as none of these basic human requirements may be available in a disaster area. The trailers, which cost up to $100,000 stocked, also have the computers and office equipment needed to service the paperwork and plans needed to deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and county and municipal clients. LMGC relies on other contracted companies to provide crews and heavy equipment, but it has to be able to manage and coordinate them.

Planning and execution of the cleanup will be different for every community, and the company has collected plans for cities from Texas to North Carolina in order to be prepared. It also keeps records of the different emergency management plans and contacts for the agencies involved. Lombardo’s company must abide by those, as well as insurance company rules. This is when that network of companies with trained personnel comes into play.

Having experienced supervisors who know the procedures, as well as the labor and equipment required, is a big part of such jobs, because from the initial scouting on it will be extremely difficult to work under the tight emergency constraints. Training is another major element in preparedness. LMGC may have training sessions every day during the periods before disaster seasons. This may consist of the nuts and bolts of emergency management or how to keep a backpack with a change of clothes and other personal needs, because when a disaster strikes, the company may need to go into action immediately.

Insurance for clients must be examinedtree removal is usually covered, but roots and stumps are not. Photo: Bartlett Tree Experts


David McMaster is a storm master. He’s the vice president and division manager for The Bartlett Tree Experts in Southampton, N.Y., overseeing operations for five offices in the Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn areas, as well as several counties in Connecticut. Over his 29 years with Bartlett, he has experienced hurricanes, ice storms and tornadoes. The 120 production employees he oversees are not storm chasers, but they must respond to clients’ needs.

Bartlett is a large national company, but McMaster notes that the safety and training coordinators in his division are trained to mobilize immediately and largely take responsibility for logistics and operations. A list of their clients is kept in their vehicles so they can be contacted and notified of damage, as well as to set up communication lines.

“The most fundamental thing that needs to be done, I think, is an overall assessment,” McMaster says. The company prioritizes storm damage work in three phases. The first is to perform a kind of tree triage in order to ensure the safety of persons and property. For example, removing a tree from a house that has had its roof punctured would be a top priority.

This is a crucial and dangerous phase of the work, wherein the company will “hopscotch around” its client base in order to perform those important tasks, which often includes power line clearance. Heavy reliance is placed on experienced crews that have the particular skill sets needed for this type of work. In fact, the company identifies such crews within each office and prepares them to be the first responders.

“Every office has an assigned crew in a position to react to storms,” he says, and McMaster will know specifically what competencies and equipment they will have on hand. Part of the job is to muster enough large equipment such as cranes and log loader trucks. Crews must be trained in safety under these adverse conditions, as well as in special work such as advanced rigging techniques. Additional company crews from as far away as Texas and Illinois may be called in to assist, as Bartlett’s clients include municipalities that expect prompt response.

The second phase is the removal of the damaged trees and wood. This requires the use of even heavier equipment and trucks with lift gates to reduce the strain on workers. The company does not take chippers and stump grinders to clients’ properties in the first phase, because they will be in the way, and the workers will be inundated with requests to take away the wood immediately.

During both of these phases, safety is the primary concern of the crews. Every office has an inventory of extra equipment, such as hard hats and large chain saws, and Bobcats and front-end loaders make the work lighter. All workers wear ISA-sanctioned safety gear. Phase 2 crews don’t need all of the aerial skills of the phase 1 crews, but more workers will be needed because of the volume of materials handled.

“A big part of this job is to ensure that our crews have the right amount of food and fluids,” McMaster says. That is the job of coordinating supervisors, and that also includes keeping lists of hotels where workers can stay near the job. Company offices are used as a “bivouac,” where they can sleep, and they have utilized camps such as those used for 4-H students to keep workers near the job.

When storms strike, and lives and property are at risk, tree companies must be ready to immediately respond to clients’ needs. Photo: Bartlett Tree Experts


Greg Gray has been in business for 25 years and has seen many punishing storms in the Pacific Northwest. His company, A Better Cut Greg’s Tree Service in Vancouver, Wash., is small, with only three employees, including himself. However, when widespread storms or tornadoes hit, he is set up to respond immediately. His crew and any emergency hires will be trained and conscious of the difficulties presented under these conditions.

“It’s a lot more adverse conditions when you’re trying to cut a 150-foot fir tree out of somebody’s living room,” Gray says, and the storm may still be raging while crews work. One thing he does is set up a priority system for cleanup, because it is more important to take a downed tree off a house than it is to remove it from a car, for example.

“You have to schedule stuff, because in these storm conditions you are on the move constantly,” he notes. This means the company has to be highly organized with both crews and equipment. It is also important in the cleanup phase to not take on too much, while at the same time having all the needed equipment at your disposal.

Communication with the client on his needs and the type of homeowner’s insurance he carries is crucial. The ultimate payment depends on the stipulations of the insurance policy, so these aspects must be talked over and agreed upon before work starts. For example, Gray says, many policies will pay for the removal of the tree, but not the roots or stump, and this should be ascertained early on.

The cleanup phase of a disaster is very labor intensive, and it calls for specific types of equipment that differs from normal tree removal jobs. Demand for qualified tree labor is high at the time, and that means the company must maintain a list of potential temporary employees beforehand. Gray says he even networks with his competitors to make sure he can find good help.

Gray owns 55-foot Hi-Ranger and 35-foot Versalift boom trucks, as well as large Vermeer and small Rayco stump grinders. He has a dump truck and a Brush Bandit chipper. These generally serve him well during a disaster, because he can clean up only one job at a time anyway. He keeps his crew working together throughout for both speed and safety requirements, so he has to carefully schedule when the crew can return to a site and do chipping and wood removal. It often takes three or more visits.

Routes to disposal sites must also be scouted during a disaster, because roads may be closed. He comes prepared to clear trees from roads, but it is more efficient to take cleared routes. Every tree company will be hauling to the same sites at that time, so Gray lines up private people who will take the wood from emergency jobs. Over the past 25 years, he estimates, he has been able to give away 95 percent of the wood and chips he has processed. He tries to give as much as possible to senior citizens who rely on free wood for fuel. He also has nearby farmers who will allow him to unload on their property in emergencies.

Since time is a factor on these jobs, and his crew often puts in 15-hour days and may work into the night, safety is a major concern. Instead of rushing jobs during the crisis, Gray’s crew is trained to slow down and make sure safety is paramount. This is where a bonded and insured company can have an advantage over fly-by-night companies that try to take advantage of the emergency situation.

Gray is proud of the fact that he has never had to hire a lawyer to represent him because of poor workmanship or mistakes. This comes from the fact that, even during an emergency, attention is paid to doing quality work. Through follow-up calls and visits, he will make sure his clients are satisfied. That leads to work once the disaster is finished.

“You get a lot of referrals for a job well done,” Gray says, and that helps him compete with companies that are not licensed and bonded. And, the next time a disaster strikes, he will be the one people call.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2011 and has been updated.

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The Latest in Aerial Lift Innovations

We asked experts from two leading equipment manufacturers: “What are some recent innovations in aerial lift technology, when it comes to tree care?”

Here’s what they had to say:

Joe Caywood

Director of Marketing/Terex Utilities

The Terex Hi-Ranger XT Pro Series Tree Trimmer trucks design focuses on simplicity and reliability. Examples of low-maintenance features include: full-pressure hydraulics; leveling chains that extend replacement intervals to 10 years; elbow cylinders retracted in stowed position that provide protection from road grime and round pedestals for easier bolt inspection and torqueing. In the last year, Terex has introduced two new technologies for aerial devices. The Terex Load Alert system monitors the platform capacity — if an overload is detected, visual and/or audible alarms located at the boom tip and ground level alert the crews. This monitoring and warning enhances safe work practices and allows fleet managers additional information to operate their fleets. Second, the new HyPower IM provides a cost-effective solution to mitigate engine idling and reduce fuel usage. The integrated system automatically switches from plug-in, battery-stored power when the truck is idling to engine-supplied power when hydraulic controls are engaged. HyPower IM is engaged automatically when the truck is put into park and when hydraulic controls are engaged. This means that tree care workers don’t have to take physical action to switch from engine to battery power, providing an affordable solution for companies investing in green fleets.

Joshua Bacci

General Manager/ALT Sales Corp.

ALT Sales Corp. is in constant pursuit of innovative ways to help our tree customers work safely and more efficiently. For example, on a traditional boom truck, wiring is outside of the boom, potentially snagging branches and damaging wiring or the tree. We can offer internal and radio anti 2 blocks, providing the ability to get right up against the tree without fear of damaging critical components. ALT also offers units that are SAIA/ANSI A92.2 dual-rating aerial lift configured. This affords the operator the ability to efficiently switch from lifting capabilities to aerial work without the need for test weights, or an additional machine. We believe the best boom truck is the one that’s customized for each individual customer’s needs. Since ALT has forged relationships will multiple manufacturers, we are able to maximize the options available throughout a customer’s buying process.

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Heart Attack Claims J.J. Mauget President, CEO Nathan Dodds

J J Mauget

J.J. Mauget Company has announced the unexpected death of Nathan (Nate) E. Dodds, its president and CEO. Dodds suffered a massive heart attack earlier this month on June 14. Nate, joined his father, Dale I. Dodds, and younger brother, Charlie Dodds, at Mauget 35 years ago. When Nate’s father passed away 20 years ago, Nate took over as president and CEO. The family-owned and -operated business has considered everyone that has ever worked at Mauget as part of the extended Dodds family. Nate’s daughter, Kellie E. Dodds, has accepted the position of president and general manager of the J.J. Mauget Company.

A memorial service celebrating the life of Nathan E. Dodds will be held on July 16, 2017, at the Yorba Linda Community Center in Yorba Linda, California from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Donations can be made in honor of Nathan Dodds to the American Heart Association or American Diabetes Association.

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After the Storm Take it One Tree at a Time

Whenever a storm hits and massive tree damage occurs, an arborist can easily be overwhelmed. The local and national media often blanket TV and newspapers with images of trees down all over the area. Scenes of power lines on the ground with limbs covering them, tree pieces laying on cars and homes, or roads that are impassible from all the debris can make any arborist want to immediately spring into action. We all know that we can help with the cleanup effort, but depending on the size of your crews, you can only be in so many places at once.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011, an early-season snowstorm struck much of the northeastern U.S. The forecasters had predicted the storm for several days and reminded everyone that trees could be easily damaged since many still had leaves on them. The storm was as predicted: a nor’easter with high winds leaving behind up to 20 inches of snow in areas of southern Maine and 160,000 customers without power statewide. In the city of Portland, we were treated to a mere 5.2 inches, but that was enough to cause considerable damage.

I received a phone call around 7 a.m. Sunday from a client who owned a multifamily house on outer Congress Street in Portland. A large leader from a silver maple (Acer saccharinum), approximately 22 inches in diameter at the base, separated from the rest of the tree, falling across his driveway. When the tree fell, it brought with it the house’s power, phone and cable lines, before coming to rest with the tips of top branches on his porch. Parts of the scaffolding branches lay across the sidewalk, and some municipal employees had already cut a few off to clear the way for traffic. Outer Congress Street is a busy four-lane arterial that links Portland to South Portland, with many shopping areas, restaurants, shops and homes lining it. I grabbed my gear and hopped in my truck.

A snowstorm severely damaged a silver maple in Portland, Maine. Photo: J.D. Hernandez Forest Products

Since this is a high-traffic area, both vehicular and pedestrian, I knew I needed to create a safe work zone. I grabbed a roll of yellow caution tape and made sure to wear high-visibility gear. I called the power company to make sure the lines were de-energized so I would be safe to work. My client had called a private licensed electrician to begin repairing his service line since it had been torn from the building. The electrician had all of the de-energized lines safely removed from my work zone, and the residential distribution lines were located across the street.

My first order of business was to secure my work zone. I strung the yellow caution tape the entire length of the zone, giving myself enough room to park my truck safely off the street. Since the driveway was blocked, I had to park my truck off the sidewalk, which acted as a barrier for the work zone. I put on my safety gear: hard hat with hearing protection and face shield, safety glasses and gloves. I was already wearing a high-visibility vest. I checked over the site once more to make sure there weren’t any safety hazards such as utility lines, holes, tripping hazards or anything that would get in my way.

I started to clear away the scaffolding branches that were sticking out everywhere. I stacked them beyond the driveway near the base of the tree, and the client arrived to check on my progress. I explained to him that I would cut up all of the brush, cut the leader to stove-length firewood size, and stack all the material off of the driveway. Since there were multiple clients calling for service at the time, my plan was to clear all of the obstructions and leave the material on each site over the next few days. Once all of the obstructions were clear, I would then bring back a chipper to deal with the brush and remove the round wood at the same time. This was done as a time-saving measure, allowing me to service as many clients as possible in a short period of time, and then devoting a full day to disposing all the residual debris from multiple sites at once. I wanted to deal with the important things first, e.g. clearing the obstructions, and then deal with aesthetic cleanup when time wasn’t a factor. My client agreed this would be the best option for him. Also, the weather would warm up later in the week, melting the 5 inches of heavy, wet snow and making it easier to rake up the leaves and twigs.

After removing all the branches from the leader, I stacked them neatly for later chipping, and well out of the way of the driveway and parking area. Then I cut the leader to 16-inch lengths for firewood. I stacked the pieces next to the brush pile, where I could easily come in and remove all the debris. I swept the porch so nobody would slip on the leaves and brushed the driveway off as well. I made piles as best I could of the leaves and twigs, but the snow made it difficult.

Photo: J.D. Hernandez Forest Products

My client was satisfied with my prompt response, and his electrician remarked that it was easier to repair the service lines without all the debris in the way. The tenants were glad they could once again use the driveway. I gave my client a time frame of one to two days before I would be back to remove the remainder of the debris.

The rest of Sunday and most of Monday were spent cleaning up other storm debris. Calls varied from trees that were blocking camp roads to limbs that had fallen in driveways. The majority of the damage seemed to be silver maples that had lingering leaves and weaker wood. Oaks in other areas of the state and region were also hard hit.

I returned to the first job site Tuesday morning and removed the round wood and chipped the branches. Cleanup was a snap since everything was ready to be removed. I raked the lawn, gathering up all the leaves and sawdust that remained from the leader. My client’s power had been restored by that point, although many in the state went additional days without electricity. He was fortunate, with limited damage to his house. If the leader’s fall had been a few degrees to the north, it would have landed directly on his house.

The tree that failed was actually on his neighbor’s property. There were other branches with weak angles of attachment and many crossing branches. Since a part of the tree had already failed, my client was apprehensive about it. I explained that it was his neighbor’s tree and, therefore, his neighbor’s responsibility. I wrote a hazard tree assessment outlining the causes for failure, as well as management options for the tree. I advised my client to retain a copy for his records and forward the assessment along to his neighbor.

Storms always keep arborists busy. Snow, heavy rain, ice and high winds damage trees, and we as professionals need to be ready to clean up from the damage. Always have a plan in mind and try not to lose focus. The phone may ring off the hook immediately following a storm; make sure you return each and every call as soon as possible. Give every client or potential client a reasonable estimate of the time it will take to come out and survey the job and the time it will take to complete the job. Realize that for most of the people calling you, this is a major event in their daily routine, so afford them compassion and concern. That is what sets us apart as professionals. After a storm strikes, there are often many unscrupulous “contractors” who take advantage of the situation. They provide shoddy work, gouging prices, and they are sometimes incapable of completing the project. By applying our professional standards to the tasks at hand after a storm, we do professional arboriculture a big service and present the public with the correct image of what being an arborist is all about. Remember that when the general public sees you in the field doing great work with great results your company image shines.

As always, work safely, professionally and intelligently. For many people, when a disaster strikes a tree around their house, that may be the only time they call a tree service. Take the time to educate your clients about the need for tree care and how damage may be averted in the future. We never hope for a disaster, but they inevitably arise, be ready to respond.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 2012 and has been updated.

Jack Hernandez is a Licensed Maine First Class Landscape and Utility Arborist, Certified Logging Professional and the owner of J.D. Hernandez Forest Products. He is interested in all facets of tree work and enjoys continuing his education in the field and educating others.

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Triage for Trees

When it comes to tree care, spray and pray doesn’t cut it. Predetermined, automatic, one-size-fits-all applications are not only unnecessary, they’re bad for the industry. The once-a-month method needs to be replaced by accurate triage techniques and inspections.

What you’ll need

At least three skills are needed to become proficient at triage. First, a good diagnostician has worked long enough in the tree care industry to be able to identify any woody plant in front of them, as well as the typical causes of tree injury and best management practices to create an environment that supports healthy tree growth. It’s important to keep a wide spectrum of possible causal agents in mind instead of quickly leaning toward an insect or disease. Causes for tree decline may include nonliving factors, such as adverse environmental conditions, mechanical injury from construction or human activity, nutrient deficiency or planting errors. Living organisms, such as mites, insects and fungi, can also be responsible.

Second, well-developed observational ability is necessary. The ability to differentiate between normal plant appearance and that which could be caused by a damaging factor is a skill that can be both taught and learned through on-the-job experience. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s not difficult to see, but if you are unaware of the normal pattern of growth, you are not likely to be successful at the diagnosis.

Lastly, the personal trait of inquisitiveness is necessary. Like the trait of extroversion, everyone has the ability to be curious about what is causing a particular tree to be ailing; it just comes more natural to some than others. And, like becoming more extroverted when the situation calls for it, this trait can be developed to assist with triage.

Sumac aphids

Sumac aphids. Aphids are common sucking insects. Photo: James A. Kalisch, UNL

Don’t jump to conclusions

As best you can, fight the natural tendency to decide on a certain diagnosis too soon. Keeping your mind open as long as possible greatly increases your chances for accuracy. For example, a tree suffering from an unknown malady produces what appears to be generalized nondescript symptoms of brown leaves. There are at least 40 or 50 possible causes of such a malady. As you systematically work through the symptoms, finding clear, definitive signs that are germane only to a specific disease, insect or abiotic causal agent, the chances for finding the actual cause of the decline increase.

Keep in mind that two or three causal agents can be responsible for the decline of a tree. In fact, after an initial diagnosis has been made via triage, ask yourself, “What else could be responsible for the way that the tree looks?” Start triage by observing symptoms and signs, arriving at an initial decision, then consider other major groups; if the diagnosis is anthracnose, look for evidence that causal agents in the insects and abiotic groups could have contributed to the demise of the specimen.

Tapping affected branches over a white card is a good triage step to look for sucking insects and mites. Photo: James A. Kalisch, UNL

Think insects

By looking closely at the damage caused to tree leaves, insect damage can be classified as being caused by chewing insects, sucking insects and leaf changing insects. The remnants of insect feeding will be good clues; of course the presence of actual insects in large numbers is also quite useful, but that should be considered a bonus during triage.

Chewing insects leave the telltale signs of irregularly shaped holes in leaves and round holes in bark and wood. Some chewers, such as pine sawflies, eat entire leaves, which can lead to confusion. Frass, or granular fecal material, may also be present on leaves or stems, which is also a sign of chewing insects. Cankerworms cause classic chewing damage to broadleaf trees, such as birch and oak, but at first glance the damage may be confused with a bacterial shot hole disease, which may look similar. Some leaf miners use chewing mouthparts to enter and consume the tissues inside the leaf, known as the mesophyll. When present, a meandering or serpentine pattern of damage is evident. The beetles, caterpillars and sawflies are the most common within the chewing insect group.

Sucking insects create a stippled or lackluster appearance of the leaves that they feed upon. Insects in this group possess a piercing stylet that allows entry into plant tissues during feeding. Joining with the maxillae and other internal mouthpart structures, a two-channel extraction arrangement is set up. One channel injects saliva to liquefy plant tissues, while the other is used in conjunction with a small hydraulic pump in the head to suck the partially digested liquid cell sap into the digestive track of the insect. Trees that have been fed upon by sucking insects often have sticky leaves, caused by the deposition of honeydew as a waste product of the insect feeding. Aphids and lacebugs are classic sucking insects. While not true insects, various mite species have similar feeding habits.

Leaf and stem changers cause damage to trees by distorting, cupping, rippling and creating oddly shaped structures on the stems and leaves. This is somewhat of a catch-all group, with insects that use a variety of feeding and adaptive methods to create damage. Most notable in this group are the galls, which are frequently caused by cynipid wasps. They distort plant tissues by disrupting the normal growth process of leaves and stems. For the most part, they do not pose a significant threat to tree health.


Sawflies are chewing insects that eat entire leaves in most cases. Photo: James A. Kalisch, UNL

Think diseases

Diseases, either foliar or systemic, can be a major contributing factor in the demise or success of a tree. While foliar diseases, such as tar spot, are not usually serious in the long run, systemic pathogens, such as Dutch elm disease or oak wilt, can move a tree from healthy to hazardous in a couple of years.

Diseases that cause spotting on tree leaves are fairly conspicuous in terms of the signs they produce. If a pattern of round or oblong spots are evident on tree leaves, working to confirm a foliar disease as the initial diagnosis is a reasonable step. However, injury from certain insects can mimic this, especially if the insects are not present and the disease has progressed far enough for infected tissues to fall away from the leaf. Apple scab, dothistroma needle blight and cedar apple rust are diseases representative of this group.

Another category is characterized by pathogens that induce a softening of tissues. Armillaria root rot and heartwood decay of hardwoods are good examples. As the tree is inspected, pay close attention to the integrity of the wood, stems and leaves, as this may be a good indicator that pathogens from this group are responsible. The development of soft and punky heartwood is usually due to the invasion of wood-decomposing fungi after a limb has been removed or a crack in the bark occurs. The most important consideration with decay is to evaluate the relative amount of sound to weak wood present. Quite a bit of inner decay may be present, yet if a solid mass of wood surrounds it, it may not be a primary concern.

Pathogens that don’t fit either of the other two groups are maladies less obvious in terms of signs and symptoms, and include the blights, where various parts of the tree turn brown in random or nondescript patterns. Phomopsis blight and Dutch elm disease are good examples. Further investigation is necessary when faced with these types of scenarios.

Some insects distort the growth and appearance of the leaves, but don’t usually cause significant damage. Photo: James A. Kalisch, UNL

Think abiotic

In addition to the maladies caused by living organisms, there are a significant number of potential responsible agents that are nonliving. Many factors fit in this group.

The various components of soil (drainage, nutrition, pH, organic matter content, compaction, residues from construction) create the rooting and water/nutrient extraction capacity for tree roots. If any of these factors are not optimal, such as pH values that limit the uptake of iron or manganese or inadequate soil porosity that prevents adequate gas exchange, tree vigor can be compromised. Recent soil activities, such as application of additional soil or trenching, are also important considerations. Any factor that reduces infiltration of water and nutrients is a concern. Measure the degree of slope and consider it in conjunction with compaction and other soil factors.

Other plants in the landscape can limit the amount of water and nutrients available to trees. When placed too closely, shrubs, grasses, ground covers and even nearby trees can compete for necessary inputs, causing stress, inadequate growth and overall unhealthy specimens.

Largely a phenomenon of proper placement in the landscape, weakness can occur when a tree that is favored by full sunlight becomes shaded by a new building or growth of nearby trees. This is common when the crowns of adjacent trees become larger. In certain cases, the effects of phototropism become evident, where young shoots begin to orient themselves in the direction of the available sunlight.

If evidence of new hardscape (benches, concrete slabs, tree surrounds, patios, brickwork, etc.) is present, it’s likely that some roots were damaged in the process. In some cases, damage is minimal and trees can recover easily, but more often than not, construction activity leads to a degradation of tree health, especially if combined with other stress factors.

Although an important concern, root maladies can be quite difficult to observe. In some cases, surface rooting symptoms are obvious and can be noted during triage. Root girdling, damage from construction, compaction or hardpan are the most common concerns.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2010 and has been updated.

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Climbing Hitches: Open Vs. Closed

Whenever and wherever climbers gather, they will discuss their hitches, often to the point that non-climbers’ eyes will glaze over and many begin to display distinct symptoms of a lack of consciousness. These non-climbers’ incomprehension is understandable; after all, it is highly unlikely that they have ever been 85 feet up in a tulip poplar with a running chain saw and their very exposed and vulnerable position dependent on a work positioning lanyard and their personal choice of climbing hitch.

Even if, as a climber, you have never been in that particular position, your climbing hitch is a choice that affects your well-being almost every day and in every way. The number of hitches currently in use, or even being developed and refined as this article is read, far exceeds the available space to discuss their use and care, but a discussion of some basic open and closed climbing hitches will assist climbers to gain a better understanding of what climbing hitches can and cannot do, and where they might find the hitch they are looking for.

Left to right: The Schwaebisch, Distal and Michoacán, three basic closed climbing hitches with arrows to illustrate how they are tied. Photo: Michael Tain


Climbing hitches, by their very nature, need to be secure and reliable. A hitch that requires constant fiddling and maintenance for the climber to maintain his position is one that, sooner or later, is going to lead to problematic situations. When trying out a new hitch, the best place to experiment is “low and slow,” or on the ground. After all, 50 feet up is not the time to discover the new “best hitch ever” seems to creep copiously.

Ease of use

In what can seem to be direct conflict with security is the need for the hitch to be fairly easy to use. This does not mean that it doesn’t require an instruction manual, although with some hitches this might be valuable. Instead, it means that when the climber wishes to ascend or descend, the hitch responds well without undue effort; and that when the climber wants to stop, the hitch does as well.

Open hitches

Open climbing hitches are hitches in which only a single end of the cordage is attached to the climber’s harness, and the other end is used to form the hitch around the climbing line. The end of the cordage extending beyond the hitch should then be tied into a stopper or safety knot. The end of the climbing line itself can be used for an open climbing hitch, though for ease of use, a separate length of cordage, either spliced or tied with an appropriate attachment knot, is often used as a split bridge or tail. Three commonly seen examples of open climbing hitches are the Tautline, Prusik and Blake’s.

Tautline hitch

The Tautline is probably one of the most commonly used climbing hitches in North America and has been around since the days of natural fiber ropes. Unfortunately, unlike natural fibers, modern synthetic ropes are slippery, and as a rolling hitch, the Tautline can untie under load, or even tighten into immovability. This hitch is formed by making two turns around the standing part of the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the tail up above the original two turns and making two more turns around the standing part of the line downward in the same direction as the first two turns.

Individual user preference and rope choices may dictate more or fewer turns around the standing part of the line for greater or reduced friction. The lines should exit the Tautline from opposite sides in the middle of the hitch. The tail should then be formed into a stopper knot to prevent the hitch from untying itself when under load.

Prusik hitch

The Prusik hitch does not roll under load like the Tautline, but does tend to tighten, although it can be loosened by pushing against the formed bar of the hitch. This hitch is formed by making two turns around the standing part of the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the tail up above the original two turns and making two more turns around the standing part of the line downward in the opposite direction from the first two turns.

Once again, individual user preference and rope choices may dictate more or fewer turns around the standing part of the line. The lines should exit the Prusik from the same side in the middle of the hitch. The tail should then be formed into a stopper knot for additional security.

Left to right: The Tautline, Prusik and Blake’s, three basic open climbing hitches with arrows to illustrate how they are tied. Photo: Michael Tain

Blake’s hitch

The Blake’s hitch does not roll, nor does it bind as tightly as the other open climbing hitches, making it much easier to move either up or down after loading. It does focus a great deal of friction on one specific point, which can result in glazing on long, fast descents.

The Blake’s hitch is formed by making four turns around the standing part of the climbing line in an upward direction. The tail is then brought down between the user and the bridge, crossing beneath and capturing the bridge, then brought up beneath the bottom two turns on the other side. The tail should then be formed into a stopper knot for additional security.

Closed climbing hitches

A closed climbing hitch is one in which, after the hitch is formed around the climbing line, both ends are attached to the climber’s harness, typically by a carabiner. This closed nature means that closed climbing hitches cannot be formed in the end of the climbing line and require a length of dedicated cordage intended for that use. This also means they are only used as part of a split bridge or tail system, unlike open climbing hitches, which may be used in either. Three commonly seen examples of closed climbing hitches are the Schwabisch, Distal and Michoacn.


The Schwabisch looks very much like an asymmetrical Prusik around the climbing line. It is asymmetrical in that unlike a standard Prusik, which has an even number of coils or wraps each side of center, the Schwabisch, if tied correctly, will have one turn on the bottom and multiple turns on the top.

This hitch is formed by making one turn around the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the end of the eye and eye tail or piece of cordage up above the original turn and making four more turns around the standing part of the line in a downward direction, going around the climbing rope in the opposite direction from the original turn. The ends should both exit from the same side of the knot beneath the bar and are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.


The Distal is tied in a similar fashion to the Schwabisch, with one key difference. The hitch is formed by making one turn around the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the end of the eye and eye tail or piece of cordage up above the original turn and making four more turns around the standing part of the line in a downward direction, going around the climbing rope in the same as the original turn. The ends will exit from opposite sides of the knot beneath the bar and are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.


The Michoacn, brought to the tree world by Martin Morales of Southern California, may at first glance appear very similar to the Schwabisch and Distal, but is actually tied quite differently. The hitch is formed by making five turns around the climbing line in an upward direction. The upper end of the eye and eye tail or piece of cordage is then brought down and under the other end of the eye and eye tail, capturing it, before the hitch is completed by feeding the upper end between the standing part of the rope and the first turn. The lower end will exit from one side of the knot, captured by the upper end, which exits from beneath the first turn on the other side of the knot. Both ends are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.

As mentioned in the title, the choice of a climbing hitch is a very personal one, suited to each individual’s climbing style, rope choices and even body weight. In fact, some climbers will use different hitches in different situations or applications, feeling that a particular hitch gives them an advantage in removals, while another performs better when pruning. In addition, different climbers may add or subtract turns even to the basic hitches described here, as each will function differently with different ropes and climbers. The short answer is that there is no wrong climbing hitch choice, as long as it is safe, secure and easy to use for that particular climber. Just as the world would be a boring place if all of humanity dressed, looked and acted the same, the tree climbing world would be much more mundane if all climbers used the same hitch. Besides, then what would we all talk about when we got together?

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2011 and has been updated.

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Communication & Your Crew

Communication & Your Crew

A tree job begins with a plan that can help eliminate confusion before it starts. Start each job with a pre-job briefing and site inspection. An acronym you may find useful is HOPE.

  • “H” stands for hazards. These are defined by anything that may interfere with the safety of the crew. A common job site hazard is electrical lines. Defining the location of hazards and establishing a protocol for how to safely work around them beforehand eliminates the struggle of having to communicate safety standards or work processes during the job.
  • “O” is for obstacles. These are things that can be broken or get in the way. Examples of obstacles range from pedestrian traffic to swimming pools. In many cases, obstacles can be moved. Other times obstacles demand that the crew alter the work plan. An example of this is the decision to lower limbs as opposed to just letting them free-fall because an obstacle, such as a patio, is in the drop zone.
  • P” is for plan. The crew must develop an appropriate plan, keeping all hazards and obstacles in mind. The plan should maximize job flow, but adhere to safety standards and protocol.
  • “E” stands for equipment. A well-laid out plan complements the equipment and space available. Preplaced equipment helps with a seamless work flow. Sometimes equipment will need to be moved. Add this dynamic to your job briefing and communicate it clearly. The time to get your point across is before the decibels rise and the brush starts flying.

Read more: The Importance of Work Site Communication

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Climbing Harnesses 101

Climbing harnesses are an integral and vital part of every climbing arborist’s daily work life; and though some tree folk may put a great deal of thought and energy into harness selection and purchase, a large number just go with whatever’s available or costs the least. While cost certainly has to be a component of harness selection, particularly given the current economic climate, it should not be the only criteria considered when it’s time to replace “ol’ faithful.”

A climber’s harness not only provides safety and security day after day and job after job, it’s also a piece of gear that is intimately familiar with some pretty important parts of the user’s body. In short, a harness is going to be used on every job involving climbing and is going to affect the user’s comfort and abilities more than any other piece of gear or equipment they might employ, so it follows that a poorly designed harness or one that’s not properly adjusted is going to have just as great a negative effect.

Not all that long ago, climbers simply created a harness out of the end of their climbing line, sometimes adding a board or stiffener for additional comfort for their “seat of power.” This field expedient harness creation is not a bad skill to have, especially for emergency situations, but, in general, current production climbers would be less than happy with the pinching, lack of support and general discomfort that a field expedient climbing line harness provides.

Thankfully there are a wide variety of harnesses available specifically designed and intended for the “rough trade” of production tree work. While this variety allows climbers to find the harness that is right for their particular style and body type, the large number of choices can also be confusing. Some basic knowledge about the intended applications and the features of modern harnesses can help make the process less confusing and result in a more satisfactory outcome for the climber and their pelvis.

Bear LeVangie using both the suspension and work positioning features of her climbing harness while working aloft. Photo: Melissa LeVangie.

Bear LeVangie using both the suspension and work positioning features of her climbing harness while working aloft. Photo: Melissa LeVangie.


Industrial harnesses can be divided into four basic types: fall restraint, fall arrest, work positioning and suspension. Many tree industry-specific harnesses will have elements of each.

1. Fall Restraint.

This harness system is intended to prevent the user from getting into a position where they can get hurt or fall. In general, its use in the tree care industry is pretty limited, and most commonly would be seen in the use of a body belt with the appropriate lanyard in an aerial lift or device. The lanyard used with a fall restraint harness is the key component, as it is what prevents the user from getting to the “bad place” where a fall could occur. Personal experience has shown that using a longer lanyard with a fall restraint harness or body belt is an extremely bad choice, and should a fall be taken, will most certainly lead to an entry to the user’s top 10 unpleasant things they have experienced.

2. Fall Arrest.

A fall arrest system is designed to not only stop a fall, but also lessen the forces and accompanying pain and soft tissue injuries that the “fallee” experiences. In tree care, these types of systems are most often called full-body harnesses, and they are often used in aerial lifts. There are harnesses available with beefy suspenders that at first glance look like a fall arrest harness, but users/purchasers should check carefully that the harness is intended for fall arrest, as sometimes the additional straps over the shoulders are just meant to help support the weight of all the gear that arborists love to hang off their harness, and not to arrest a fall.

A dorsal attachment point is a key indicator of a fall arrest harness and is located on the back of the user approximately between the shoulder blades. A deceleration lanyard should be used with the fall arrest harness to get the maximum benefit out of the system. These types of lanyards have an additional bundle of material sewn into them that is intended to separate under specific forces, thereby slowing down and decreasing the force of the fall. This deceleration works with the full-body nature of the fall arrest harness, which tries to spread the force of the fall over the user’s body as much as possible, instead of focusing it on one or two possibly more vulnerable or fragile points like other harnesses.

As with so many other systems or pieces of equipment used in tree care, the whole purpose and intent of the fall arrest system can be negated by an unfamiliar user or one trying to take a shortcut. In this case by attaching the deceleration lanyard to some other point on the harness other than the dorsal attachment point. For users who climb and work out of a bucket, there are harnesses available for both applications. Fall arrest and the ones listed below, but the typical fall arrest harness issued with an aerial lift or device is not intended for climbing, and to attempt to do so is not only unsafe, but quite uncomfortable.

3. Work Positioning.

This system is meant to give the climber exactly what the name implies, the ability to position themselves safely and correctly to carry out the needed work — hopefully with both hands free — and preventing or lessening the likelihood of a fall.

An example of a work positioning setup in tree industry harnesses is the side attachment points, commonly called D-rings. Climbers use these with some form of lanyard around the pieces/parts that make up the structure of the tree to position themselves securely or to maintain a desired spot while carrying out work. The D-rings are meant to be used with the lanyard attached on one side, going around the branch or trunk, and then reattached to the opposite side D-ring. Having the lanyard returning to the same D-ring on the same side can set the climber up for an awkward and moderately painful body position should a fall occur. Should the user need to have the lanyard attached at the same point, a much better option would be one of the front center attachment points discussed below in suspension systems, as these would allow for an easier recovery in the event of a fall.

4. Suspension.

A suspension system is one that is probably most familiar to climbing arborists and the one most often used in ascending, descending and working in the tree. The suspension system’s intent is to somewhat cradle the user in a relatively comfortable and stable semi-seated position while suspended from an overhead tie-in point (TIP). When set up and used properly, the system allows the user to work with both hands safely and securely on the task at hand.

Most tree climbing harnesses currently available incorporate components of both suspension and work positioning systems, though some are also available with the addition of a fall arrest component.

Matt Logan preparing to foot lock while wearing a full-body Buckingham Ergovation while using the sliding D attachment ring. Photo: Photo by Scott Prophett.

Matt Logan preparing to foot lock while wearing a full-body Buckingham Ergovation while using the sliding D attachment ring. Photo: Photo by Scott Prophett.


Many of the types of harnesses described are available with different leg position options, particularly in tree industry specific harnesses. This is going to be a very personal choice for climbers, one that should be carefully considered — hopefully by hanging in the options — prior to purchase.

The two typical options are a sit harness or a leg strap harness. Sit harnesses, though they may have supplemental leg straps for security, primarily bear the climber’s weight on a strap beneath their buttocks, often supplemented by a batten or stiffener. This setup provides a great deal of support to the user, and in a quality harness can almost feel like sitting in a swing. Sit harnesses without stiffeners can tend to push the hips and legs together, not only decreasing comfort, but also limiting leg movement during climbing operations.

A harness with individual leg straps will put most of the weight of the climber on those individual straps, which in a quality harness can be adjusted to the point of greatest comfort for the climber. The individual straps can allow greater freedom of movement for the climber, but if poorly adjusted or worn by the wrong body type can pinch and bind.

Typical applications should be considered when deciding on the type of leg positioning, as the sit harness option will be most comfortable when hanging free for extended periods of time such as cabling, bracing and crane operations; and the leg strap more comfortable and user friendly when a lot of canopy movement is involved.

Matt Logan prepares to foot lock while wearing a full-body Buckingham Ergovation and using the sliding D attachment ring. Photo: Photo: Scott Prophett

Matt Logan prepares to foot lock while wearing a full-body Buckingham Ergovation and using the sliding D attachment ring. Photo: Photo: Scott Prophett


There are a variety of attachment options for suspension available to today’s climbing arborist, but they can be divided into two simple types: sliding or fixed. In addition, many of the newer models offer both options on the same harness, a distinct advantage as experienced climbers will often find that the different attachment options are better or worse in specific situations or positions they may find themselves in aloft.

The simplest type of fixed attachment point is a single one on the front of the harness, but multiple ones at various spots in the front will not only help to better distribute weight, but can also separate the climbing system to the user’s advantage.

A sliding attachment point, or sliding D, usually uses some type of strap or rope in the front of the harness that the attachment moves or “slides” along. This is intended to adjust to the climber’s movement, easing the amount of torque on their hips and back.

James Luce uses a rope wrench with the sliding D attachment ring on the treeMOTION harness. Photo: James Luce

James Luce uses a rope wrench with the sliding D attachment ring on the treeMOTION harness. Photo: James Luce


Although it is not always possible, prospective harness purchasers would be well advised to try out or hang in a harness for at least a short time before laying down their hard-earned cash. This could be as simple as borrowing a bud’s harness for a job or trying it out after work, though some arborist supply retailers have tie-in points in their stores for just this purpose.

The reality is that every climber’s body structure is going to be subtly or widely different, and while modern harnesses have a lot of adjustment options to “personalize” the harness, one size is not going to fit — let alone be comfortable for — all. What looks so cool and hip in the catalog or on the video may feel like some form of medieval torture device after only an hour aloft in that shagbark hickory. A climber would be well served to find that out beforehand.


The cost of a comfortable, high-quality harness certainly has to be a consideration to production climbers. After all, it may come close to equaling a week’s wages if not more. The first and most important consideration for the climber has to be researching and trying out harnesses to make sure that comfort, safety, security and ease of use are all a part of their new harness. However, once the right harness has been selected, the climber should view the price realistically.

A quality, well-designed and manufactured harness, properly used and cared for, should last a production climber at least a year, most likely longer. Breaking down how much the harness costs for each day of climbing should show that it’s actually costing the climber less than all those cups of coffee and bags of pork rinds, making the purchase a little easier to swallow.

Climbing arborists use their harnesses every day in pursuit of their livelihood and the professional care of trees, making this piece of equipment a vital part of their work life. Given the importance of a safe, comfortable climbing harness, a little bit of extra knowledge and time spent in research cannot help but lead to climbers getting the job done more comfortably, safely and efficiently, which is what the whole industry should be about.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2011 and has been updated.

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Tree Spotlight: Acer Rubrum

Acer Rubrum

TRADE NAME: Red maple

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: One of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America, its range extends from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia (Canada) west to southern Ontario (Canada), Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois; south through Missouri, eastern Oklahoma and southern Texas; and east to southern Florida. Is a common dominant in many forest types and is considered a major species, or associate, in more that 56 cover types.

WOOD VALUE: An important source of saw timber and pulpwood, but is often overlooked as a wood resource.

OTHER USES: Is characterized by showy fruits, flowers and colorful fall foliage. They were first cultivated in 1656 and many cultivars are available. Can be used to make maple syrup, although sugar maple is much more commonly used in these cases.

FAMILY: Sapindaceae.

VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Can be planted onto many types of disturbed sites. It can be propagated by seed or by various vegetative techniques.

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: One of the first trees to flower in early spring. Specific flowering dates are largely dependent on weather conditions, latitude and elevation. Flowers generally appear several weeks before vegetative buds. Bud break may be affected by soil factors. Fruit matures in spring before leaf development is complete.

General botanical characteristics:

  • A deciduous tree that grows 30 to 90 feet tall and up to 4 feet in diameter.
  • The bark is smooth and gray, but darkens and becomes furrowed in narrow ridges with age.
  • Twigs are stout and shiny red to grayish brown.
  • The small, fragrant flowers are borne in slender-stalked, drooping axillary clusters.
  • The fruit is a paired, winged samara approximately 0.75 inches long. Samaras are red, pink or yellow.

Management considerations:

  • Is a conservation concern in Canada and several bur oak communities in the Plains region are considered imperiled.
  • Is tolerant of water-logged soils and flooding and is intermediately tolerant of ice damage. Is also susceptible to decay after mechanical damage.
  • Loopers, spanworms, the gall-making maple borer, maple callus borer, Columbian timber borer and various scale insects are common damaging agents.
  • Has experienced periodic declines in past decades. Although the precise pathogens have not been identified, evidence suggests that insects can weaken the trees, making them more vulnerable to decline.
  • Butt rot, trunk rot fungi, heart rot and stem diseases are common in damaged trees; even increment boring can cause result in serious decay.
  • Is resistant to herbicides and girdling. Picloram or cacodylic acid injected directly into the stems can be effective for control.
  • Is often poorly regarded as a timber species due to its susceptibility to defects and disease.
  • Usually grows rapidly after heavy cutting or high grading; crop tree release may be a low-cost management option.

Source: U.S. Forest Service (FS.Fed.US)

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Climbing Systems

Modern-day arborists have a wide variety of systems available to get them up and about in canopies an almost overwhelming amount in comparison to the choice of spurs or rope of yesteryear. While this helps climbers select not only the system that works best with their particular skill set and preference, but also the requirements of the individual job, it can create confusion and possibly unsafe acts by users who don’t realize that not all systems are alike in their actions and use. A knowledge of some of the basic methods and specific actions of different climbing systems helps crews understand their use, and help employ them more appropriately and effectively.

  • Old favorite: Spurs, hooks or gaffs, though more properly a climbing method rather than a system, are certainly a type of climbing that most tree care professionals, and indeed civilians, are at least somewhat familiar with. While to the uninitiated, spur climbing may look like the simplest of activities, it actually has a lot of moving pieces/parts, and requires a fair amount of thought, not to mention physical coordination on the part of the user.

First and foremost, spurs should only be used on a tree that is being removed. This is due to the inherent nature of spurs to punch numerous holes in the bark and living tissue of the tree, providing access for a wide variety of pathogens and causing irreparable damage. The individual techniques of spur climbing have been discussed in other columns, but with an eye toward climbing systems one of the factors that a user needs to consider is the use of some form of rope-based system in addition to the spurs. This will allow the climber to have an additional means of support and stability, along with an escape route to the ground other than spurring down if something happens. The rope-based system may be dynamic or static depending on user preference and situational appropriateness, but its use will make the job easier and more efficient, as well as infinitely safer.

  • Dynamic systems: These systems are ones that many climbers think of as “rope and saddle” or “rope and harness” climbing, and involve both parts of the rope moving when in use. In their most basic form, the rope simply goes over a branch or through a crotch and back down to the climber, though a lot of friction can be removed and energy saved by the use of some kind of friction management device.

A hybrid system (dynamic on a static) properly backed up being used in pruning operations. Photo: Michael Tain

One of the largest advantages of a dynamic system, and one that makes it fairly easy to ascend, is that the weight of the climber is divided between the two parts of rope, thus the climber is only having to “pull up” half their weight with each ascent movement. This advantage can also be viewed as a disadvantage in that the user has to move twice as much rope to ascend, as to move up 1 foot the climber has to pull 1 foot down on the running end of the rope and 1 foot up on the working end. The forces experienced by the tie-in point (TIP) will be equal to roughly the weight of the user, though this can be magnified fairly seriously by a “drop” into the line or other occurrences that generate some velocity.

Climbers using dynamic systems have a variety of attachment/ascent methods available to them, including mechanical devices, closed climbing hitches and open climbing hitches. The most traditional is to not only tie in with the end of the climbing line, but also leave a long enough tail to create the climbing hitch, typically a Taut-line or Blake’s hitch; and while this method is often neglected by arborists who have “moved on” to more sophisticated and demanding knots, it should be learned and known by all practitioners. After all, if a climber drops their heat-resistant ultra-strong eye and eye while retying in the top of the tree, their options for work, let alone descent, are going to be pretty limited if they don’t know how to use a traditional system.

There are a number of methods to ascend with a dynamic climbing system, most of which require the user to coordinate a number of body movements fairly smoothly. The body thrust is one that many climbers are familiar with, though many may not think of it with fondness, as using this method for long ascents can sometimes seem to be a physical torture designed to punish a climber’s past transgressions. A fairly straightforward, and to most users instinctive, method is to “hand over hand” up the rope; and the addition of a slack-tending pulley beneath the hitch and an attentive ground person can also make this method a safe one by not allowing dangerous slack in the line that could lead to a major “drop.” The footlock can even be used in dynamic systems or even a variety of appropriate ascenders, but, once again, due to the nature of the system, twice as much rope will have to be moved.

  • Static systems: This system is one where no part of the rope is moving while it is being used, and includes a variety of uses, including footlocking on both parts of the rope, single rope ascent with ascenders and the like, and even working the whole tree on a single line with the new tools available like the Unicender or Rope Wrench. In addition, a dynamic system may be placed upon a static system, creating a sort of hybrid where the static system is used in the ascent and the dynamic system attached to it used for movement and work within the canopy.

A static system that employs both parts of the line does not change the forces experienced by the TIP all that greatly, regardless of whether it is being used for ascent or in combination with a hybrid system for work, though once again “drops” into the line and possibly rope angles/bending moments can magnify these forces. A static system using a single part of the line, or single rope technique (SRT), does change the TIP forces. Since only one part of the line is being used, both it and the anchored part of the line are seeing the full weight of the climber, which puts twice the user’s weight on the TIP, magnified by any “drops” or impositions by gravity. While this should not be a problem if the climber is judicious in their choice of TIPs and takes the additional precaution of running the line over and through multiple crotches/branches, it is certainly something to be aware of when using single-rope static systems.

The “old favorite” spurs being used during a removal. Photo: Michael Tain

Static systems have their own unique requirements that distinguish them from dynamic systems, and in addition will be influenced by what method is being used to ascend. For example, the use of simple footlock technique on both parts of the line can lead the climber into an area of trouble if they advance their hitch into the “spread” of the line, the area immediately beneath the branch or crotch that holds the two parts of rope separate. This can cause the hitch to fail and not grab when the user’s weight is placed on it, but is easily rectified by running an Alpine butterfly or other midline hitch up to the branch to hold both parts of rope fairly close together and eliminate the “spread.”

Climbers using the single rope technique may wish to set up their systems in such a way that the longest part of the line is on the anchor side of the system. This additional rope, and the use of an appropriate belay/lowering device, would allow the climber to be lowered by ground personnel in the event of an emergency, a distinct advantage over a dynamic system. While static systems are not necessarily more complex than dynamic ones, users unfamiliar with them should not only educate themselves on their use, but also practice “low and slow” before incorporating them into work practice, particularly when new devices are being used as part of the ascent/climbing method.

The climbing systems discussed here are no more than a very basic introduction to their individual natures and uses, but that basic knowledge can help interested users start to expand their skill sets to employ different systems in different situations. No one system is going to be perfect for every job; and though individual climbers will certainly develop a “favorite” system, understanding and being able to use all the systems will certainly not only make them a well-rounded climber, but also help them to not force a system into a tree or situation that is not right for it. As always, a climber’s most-effective tool is their own creativity and imagination, used within the parameters of safety and security, so taking the basic natures of the systems and then developing the most personally suitable methods and techniques to use them is going to lead to the most satisfying, and safest, results.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated.

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