Summer Safety

Summer is often the busiest season for production tree workers. Dormant season’s end, summer storms and active insect and pathogen populations all add to the pace of tree care operations. Many tree care companies depend on the summer months to sustain them through the rest of the year. For most it is a make-it-or-break-it time. Therefore, a successful summer season is important.

Just as any tree job has specific concerns, so too does the summer tree season. Never is safety and efficiency more important than when workloads increase and the difference between a good year and a bad one may boil down to the activities of a few short months.

Make sure the crew has plenty of cool, clean water to drink on hot days. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Safe work practices are always necessary and cost-effective. However, each season brings its own challenges. Tree workers can do many things to stay safe and productive this summer; we’ll look at three. By avoiding heat injuries, watching out for summertime pests, and ensuring proper equipment maintenance, this summer can be safe and successful.

How about this heat?

For many parts of the country, summer months mean increased temperatures and/or humidity. Heat injury, from mild dehydration to outright heat stroke, is a constant worry. Review the additional hazards of working in high heat and humidity during site safety briefings. Be sure the job plan includes breaks and that plenty of cool, clean water is available.

Include the many hazards summer can entail in job site safety briefings. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Focus a longer safety meeting on recognizing heat injuries in yourself and other crew members. Look at abatement strategies and proper treatment. If caught early, heat injuries can often be lessened or entirely avoided. Should a crew member become incapacitated by the heat, be sure he receives proper medical care promptly.

Heat injuries are serious and must be acted on accordingly. Just because there is no blood and gore does not mean a crew member may not need quick, thorough medical care. Just as with so many things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Saw and equipment maintenance is even more important in the busy season. Photo: Tony Tresselt


Warmer weather also means that many other forms of life are more active. Bees, wasps and other stinging insects can be hidden in thick tree canopies or trunk cavities. In early summer, wildlife may be breeding or already have young broods. Beware of animals that may be more aggressive because of these cycles. Animals and birds are also more likely to be in nests and dens and may not appreciate your daytime visit to their lofty perches.

Be thorough in your risk assessments and inspect for evidence of wildlife before starting work. If crew members have any allergies, be sure the entire crew is aware and knows what to do should an incident occur. Make ready any necessary medications or other forms of treatment, and be trained and ready to use them when needed.

Not all pests are four-legged. Be aware of and able to identify poisonous plants. Even a mild allergic reaction to plants can cause discomfort and add to fatigue and frustration at the end of a long day. Be sure crew members can identify the major reaction-causing plants in your area, and develop a plan to avoid the risk or minimize the exposure.

Take special care when fueling hot equipment on hot days. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Equipment woes

Production tree care is dusty, dirty work any time of year. Add high temperatures and longer hours and summer work takes its toll on workers and equipment alike. Be sure all motorized equipment is serviced and running well. The frustration of malfunctioning equipment and long, hot days can be hazardous, if not fatal.

Sharpen saws and brush chippers regularly. Dull tools are no fun and can be dangerous. Be sure to clean radiators and cooling fins often. A clogged radiator might not make a difference when the temps are below freezing, but it can ruin efficiency on a warm day, not to mention the time lost and repair cost of a cracked block or other damage.

Mechanics will tell you they get more service calls on days with extreme temperatures. Make sure tires are at the correct pressure and in good shape. Tighten lug nuts and check brakes regularly. Top off fluids as necessary. Machinery without proper fluid levels has to work harder to do the same job. Low fluid levels usually mean higher working temps, and greater and quicker wear. What you may squeak by with on a mild day will catch up with you as time and temperature increase.

Learn to identify poisonous plants and inspect carefully for all manner of pests before working. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Be sure to store fuel and oils in shaded or cooler areas, as direct sunlight can cause unvented cans and/or storage bins to become pressurized and/or explosive. Saws and other gas equipment are slower to cool, so extra care when refueling is wise. Clean up spills promptly and use good judgment when filling hot equipment on hot days.

The summer season can be a great time to get a lot of work completed. However, increased workloads and temperatures, active hazardous pests and plants, as well as more demanding equipment usage can all add to the stress of a busy season. Make sure that safety briefings reflect these added concerns. Prepare workers and equipment alike with the tools and knowledge necessary to deal with the summer heat. Plan your work and work your plan. This becomes especially important as the summer months settle upon us.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2013 and has been updated.

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TCIA Awarded OSHA Training Grant

TCIA Awarded OSHA Training Grant

The Occupational Safety Health Administration recently announced more than $3.6 million in fiscal year 2016 Susan Harwood Targeted-Topic Training Grants to 28 non-profit organizations. Notably, OSHA funded the Tree Care Industry Association for a third consecutive year to continue safety training throughout the country. Awarded $137,532 in funding, the TCIA will present training to employers in the landscaping and tree care industries through the end of September.

“This grant will allow us to continue to provide specialized safety training programs for the arborists who need it most,” said Mark Garvin, TCIA president. “It is an important step in reducing occupational injuries and fatalities in our industry.”

Training will include recognition, avoidance, preventing hazards when using aerial lifts, operating chain saws and chippers and working near electrical conductors. Target audiences include small business, limited English-proficiency and low-literacy workers. TCIA was awarded just under $125,000 in fiscal year 2015 for similar training.

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Port-A-Wrap: The Tool That Keeps On Giving

A key component of daily tree care operations is being able to lower large pieces and parts of woody debris with a fair amount of control and accuracy. Although all climbing arborists secretly dream of an endless stream of “freefall” jobs where the property owner will take care of the brush, the reality is that many removals, and even mildly significant pruning jobs, involve some obstacle or target that must be avoided. As gravity seems to be the law no matter where a tree crew works, and wood can generate a fair amount of damaging velocity from rather insignificant heights, rigging, and the control that should be a part of it, is part and parcel of the tree care industry’s daily existence. Knowledge of how to acquire, and the ability to build, systems that provide rigging control not only will assist in avoiding damage to property, but increase the safety and efficiency of the work site. After all, an energized conductor beneath a branch to be removed is not only an obstacle that has to be undamaged, but also a palpable threat to the climber and crew if not avoided safely and under control.

A Port-a-Wrap III set to take a load during a training session. Note the ability of the ground person to be out of harm’s way. Photo: Michael Tain

Additionally, a growing awareness through research and training has made many in the industry aware of the forces trees are exposed to during rigging operations. Some of which, if improperly handled/controlled, can have catastrophic physical results for both tree and crew. In years past, and on many work sites currently, the method for gaining control over a large piece of woody debris descending at a high rate of speed was to take wraps around the tree or an adjacent tree, thereby generating the required friction for some measure of control. This technique, though still useful at times, has a number of disadvantages, including friction generation that varies with species due to bark differences, ground personnel that must be experienced and knowledgeable enough to take an appropriate number of wraps, and the dizzying number of times a ground worker has to circle the tree to put on or take off wraps. One of the simplest, lightweight and most economical tools available to provide rigging control is the Port-a-Wrap, designed and developed by working climbing arborists Scott Prophett and Norm Hall. This safe and efficient lowering device not only provides consistent friction with attendant strength regardless of tree species, but also is simple enough for efficient use with a minor amount of instruction and training. However, as with anything new to the gear bag, it must be used correctly to reap its full benefits, while avoiding improper use and situations that could lead to its failure.

Buckingham’s large aluminum Port-a-Wrap III. Photo: Michael Tain


Attaching the Port-a-Wrap to the trunk of the desired tree is a simple and straightforward process requiring only an eye sling of proper length and knowledge of appropriate rigging sling attachment knots. The use of connecting links of any type to attach the sling to the Port-a-Wrap is not recommended in any rigging situation; and particularly not in a situation involving dynamic loading where the connecting link could become cross or side-loaded during movement and subsequently fail. Rather, the best and safest way to attach the sling to the device is by girth hitching the sling around the larger or longer of the U-shaped brackets beneath the barrel. Rigging slings with larger eyes that are large enough to pass all the way around the Port-a-Wrap will make this girth hitching process even easier, and avoid the possible weakness of a connecting link. A cow hitch with a better half is an excellent choice for securing the sling and device to the tree, although in the event the sling is too short, a timber hitch may be used. If additional eye slings are available, they can be tied to one another with a double sheet bend, creating a longer single sling, allowing for the use of the cow hitch. If the timber hitch is used, ground personnel should make sure it is loaded correctly after every load to ensure the timber hitch’s coils have not gotten too close together.

This is not the time for the ground crew to be figuring out how many wraps they should have on the Port-a-Wrap. Photo: Michael Tain

Setting the rigging line

In order to prepare the Port-a-Wrap to lower a load, a bight of the rigging line is fed through the smaller angled “U” on top of the barrel, around and under the forward end of the barrel itself, and beneath the protruding pin, between the pin and the “U,” thus securing the line in place. At this point, the operator should pull down on the part of the line leading up to the load and up on the part of line exiting the device. This will assist in removing slack from the line and rigging system, and though not eliminate the Port-a-Wrap sagging at the instant the piece or branch is cut free, will lessen the severity somewhat. The line is then passed completely around the barrel behind the “U” until the number of desired wraps and attendant friction is created. More wraps around the barrel obviously mean more friction, but personal experience has shown that the most common mistake among new users is too many wraps rather than too few. Two to three complete wraps will provide total control for all but the most extreme loads. The ground person can then stand out of the landing zone at almost any angle from the device as the two pins on the end of the barrel of the Port-a-Wrap direct the line into the barrel correctly. These pins also provide a place to “cleat” off the line, keeping the load from moving in the event of a static load or to enable ground personnel to cut some pieces off a large load while stable. The barrel should be filled with wraps in this application to provide enough friction to prevent the “cleat” to become overtightened to the point where the only option for removal is a knife.


The goal when lowering a load with the Port-a-Wrap, as with any rigging control device, is to lower the load smoothly and safely with a minimization of forces at the anchor point, which is typically quite near the climber aloft. This is not accomplished by snubbing the piece or load off and bringing it to an abrupt stop. In fact, that is the worst thing that can happen in regard to forces experienced by the anchor point and the climber. By using the proper amount of wraps on the Port-a-Wrap, the operator is able to gradually slow the piece, bringing it to a stop where required by obstacles and the level of the ground beneath the tree. This gradual deceleration will allow the elongation of the rope to absorb some of the generated forces, dissipating their severity at the anchor point. In cases where circumstances or obstacles dictate snubbing the piece off, all personnel involved should be aware of the possible forces that are going to be generated, examine the tree and gear for expected survival of such forces, and plan accordingly.

An example of an eye sling girth hitched appropriately to the Port-a-Wrap. Photo: Michael Tain


The Port-a-Wrap is most commonly used in rigging systems to control the descent of loads, but with a little imagination and common sense it has a wide variety of applications in other facets of rigging or tree care. The smaller version can be used as a personal descent device in place of a figure 8 on long descents, though gear used once for rigging should never be used for climbing after its rigging use. The device also works well in applications involving lifting, pulling and/or mechanical advantage to take up and hold the slack generated by the fiddle blocks or other system, or to create an adjustable “floating anchor” in tree pulling situations.


The Port-a-Wrap III, as well as earlier versions, are made by Buckingham Manufacturing, and are available in a number of sizes, materials (including steel and aluminum) and coatings from a variety of arborist retailers. Their safe working load (SWL) is dependent on model and material, but is generally in the 2,000-pound range for the larger models. A newer version has recently come on the market that is made overseas for SherrillTree. This is called the Port-a-Wrap IV, and is available in medium and large sizes in steel and stainless steel with a working load limit (WWL) of 2,000 pounds. This version also includes a cap at the end of the barrel intended to protect the bark and trunk of trees not being removed during rigging operations. The size of the device, regardless of manufacturer, will dictate what diameters of rigging line can be used with it, so operators should take that into consideration when selecting one. Personal experience has shown that the Buckingham Port-a-Wrap III and earlier versions are strong, durable and well-built. Hopefully the newly released Port-a-Wrap IV will live up to the legacy of its forefathers, and exhibit the same tendencies.

From left: large aluminum, medium steel and small steel powder-coated Port-a-Wraps made by Buckingham Mfg. Photo: Michael Tain

Rigging operations in tree care are, by their nature, dangerous undertakings, involving attempting to move large weights in a controlled fashion, while ropes, gear, trees and climbers are all possibly experiencing extreme forces. The Port-a-Wrap is an excellent tool in these undertakings, one that once understood and used correctly cannot help but increase the safety and efficiency of tree crews everywhere during rigging operations, and whose versatility will prove useful in a wide variety of applications. Simple, strong and easy to use, the Port-a-Wrap is definitely a tool that keeps on giving.

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

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Technical Felling – The ’45’

Technical Felling - The '45'

  • Technical felling is about getting wood on the ground where it was intended without breaking any manmade objects, or harming the crew.
  • The key to getting the tree on the ground is the notch, piece of pie, chunk, or whatever else it may be called in your location.
  • The face notch is what makes the tree go where the operator wishes. Traditionally and on many work sites today, a piece of pie of 45 degrees about a third of the way into the trunk is used. These dimensions were developed and learned by contemporary tree crews’ logger ancestors and the tools they had to work with: axes and crosscut saws.
  • The bottom cut was done with the crosscut saw, and since they don’t cut well at an angle, the top would be done with an ax. An ax cuts best at 45 degrees, thus the angle of the top cut was 45 degrees. This traditional, or ‘45,’ can still be quite effective in some situations, but it does lack some degree of precision and control that’s available to operators in the age of chain saws.
  • Two things about the 45 lessen its precision and control. One, with any notch once it’s closed, the hinge breaks and all control is lost. So, any tree that’s perpendicular to the ground, or straight up and down, is only in a controlled arc for about half of its fall.
  • Secondly, the point of maximum “push back” in a tree’s fall is at about a 45-degree angle, right when the notch closes with this notch, thus there’s an alarming tendency for the butt of the tree to come backward at a high rate of speed towards the operator.

Read more: Technical Felling

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Electrical Hazards In Tree Care

Tree care crews work in a variety of environments: urban, rural, suburban and sometimes isolated, but all of these work sites will typically have one very important, and dangerous, item in common: electricity.

As much as the beauty and wonders of electricity may evoke a sigh of contentment as a refrigerated adult beverage is cracked open and the flat screen responds readily to the buttons on the remote, that same force can stop a beating heart, cause horrific burns or even blow holes right through equipment and flesh. This almost always present, powerful and dangerous force requires that all crew members be well trained and educated on how to identify electrical hazards, avoid them and, if present, know the safest way to work around them.

Dr. John Ball’s accident and fatality statistics have shown year after year that electricity plays a major role in injuring, or, more sadly, removing permanently from the workforce, those tree care personnel who either don’t have a knowledge and understanding of electrical hazards, or use a little knowledge or misinformation to make very bad decisions. As with most topics discussed in this column, there is no substitute for hands-on field education and training in electrical hazards, and there are a wide variety of organizations that instruct in this vitally important topic, but the basic information discussed here provides a good introduction to what tree professionals should be looking out for as they go about their daily routine of caring for trees.

Minimum Approach Distances for Non-line Clearance Qualified Arborists

Kilovolts phase to phase    Feet    Meters
0.0 to 50    10′    3.05
50.1 to 72.5    10′ 9″    3.28
72.6 to 121    12′ 4″    3.76
138 to 145    13′ 2″    4
161 to 169    14′    4.24
230 to 242    16′ 5″    4.97
345 to 362    20′ 5″    6.17
500 to 550    26′ 8″    8.05
785 to 800    35′    10.55

Minimum approach

Table 1 illustrates the minimum approach distances for non-line clearance qualified arborists, and as such should be obeyed in all situations. In short, a non-qualified climber or crew member should never be closer than 10 feet from any energized conductor and should be much farther away in the case of greater voltages. As can be seen in the table, higher voltage means more distance. Crew members would do well to remember that while electricity typically will travel through any conductive material in the shortest and most direct path to the ground, it can certainly also arc right through the air to a conductive material, depending on weather conditions, and thus continue its journey to the ground through the climber, tree or aerial lift.

Electrical contact may be either direct or indirect, but the end result is typically the same, with the voltage continuing on its merry way to the ground leaving behind damaged, or even dead, material and personnel.

The top of a tree well within the minimum safe approach distance for non line-clearance qualified arborists, meaning they shouldn’t even be in the tree. Photo: Michael Tain

Personal protective equipment

As mentioned, non-line clearance qualified personnel should never be nearer than 10 feet from an energized conductor, and with higher voltage should be even farther away. However, there are aspects of PPE that even these personnel need to be aware of for safety reasons.

Any hard hat or helmet that is used in the vicinity of electrical hazards must have an E rating and consist of a solid body with no vents or holes that would permit electricity to directly enter the brain housing group. In general, all climbing equipment is conductive to some degree, but in the presence of electrical hazards tree crews should take care not to use gear that is extremely conductive, such as wire-core lanyards, and use less or nonconductive options, such as fiberglass ladders and foam-filled poles. A common misconception is that the material, if present, coating many electrical lines is insulation. This material is weatherproofing at best, providing minimal, if any, insulation and should never be considered to provide any protection against the electricity in the wire.

Direct contact

This term describes the contact of any part of the climber or operator’s body with an energized conductor. Direct contact is often a consequence of a climber or aerial lift operator not fully inspecting the work site or all aspects of the tree’s canopy for the existence of overhead energized conductors. In addition, storm situations in which lines have reached the ground, are entangled in brush, or have even settled and snaked into a tree’s canopy after detachment from the poles can lead to direct contact. There is no better preventative measure for direct contact than a full and complete hazard inspection of the tree and work site by all crew members prior to work. After all, if you don’t know it’s there, it’s pretty hard to avoid.

Indirect contact

Indirect contact is contact with an energized conductor through something other than the pieces and parts of the climber’s or operator’s body. It can happen through trees, branches, ropes, trucks, uninsulated aerial lifts, conductive tools or anything else you care to name that can conduct electricity. Indirect contact can also happen, particularly during storm situations, when an energized conductor has come in contact with a typically “safe” conductor such as a metal fence, cable lines or even the metal stripping lining some street curbs. This type of indirect contact possibility can be particularly hard to identify due to the possible distance away from the downed line that has “electrified” the fence or curb. Once again, the primary preventative measure for avoiding indirect contact is inspecting and recognizing the existence of electrical hazards, but also being mindful of how actions within the work plan — climbing and rigging lines, aerial lift booms, pole pruners, falling branches, etc. — may come into or affect the minimum approach distance, allowing the electricity a path to the crew indirectly.


The entry and exit holes made by electricity through a pole pruner that inadvertently came in contact with an energized line. Thankfully the user was not injured. Photo: Courtney Keely

Ground fault

This term describes a situation in which the ground itself has become “juiced.” The area of ground energized will vary with voltage levels, soil type and the amount of moisture present, but is often caused by downed lines in storm scenarios or through the outriggers on an uninsulated or poorly maintained aerial lift that has come in contact with a line. In the case of the energized truck, it is yet another reason for ground personnel to avoid standing around leaning against the truck while the operator works aloft.

Particularly dangerous and unique to ground faults is the possibility of step potential. In all likelihood the areas of the ground that are energized are all at differing levels and anxious to “even” themselves out. A crew member walking through such an area, or fleeing a suddenly energized truck, provides the conductor the electricity needs, entering through one foot, moving up through the body and then out through the other foot to a piece of ground with a lower voltage. One option to deal with this step potential is for the crew member to take very small shuffling steps, keeping their feet close together, to get out of the area of ground fault, thereby minimizing the possible voltage differences between one foot and the other.

Emergency preparedness

All crew members should have the knowledge and training to react quickly and efficiently in the event of an electrical hazard accident. This should include items such as operating a bucket with an electrically incapacitated operator from the ground, having the number of the responsible utility readily available, methods and techniques for safely breaking line contact from the ground, and how to avoid becoming a “second” victim.

Electricity is something that is present, both benevolently and hazardously, in almost every day of tree care work. While the hazardous nature of electricity can never be eliminated, knowledge, training and awareness can go a long way toward helping tree care professionals work safely and efficiently in its presence. Regardless of whether a crew member is line clearance qualified or not, they must always remember that electricity is completely and totally nondiscriminatory: it will take the shortest path to the ground, whether it be tree, tool or flesh, so it’s best to avoid being in its path.

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

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Planting Trees Under Trees

More is better in some cases, and in others it’s not. When it comes to planting trees, more is almost always better. If your facility or customers could use a few more trees, think about one of the most commonly overlooked areas for siting sturdy trees: under other ones. Be especially mindful of the factors that make up the theme of right plant, right place when delving into the tree-under-tree endeavor.

Replicate Mother Nature

One of the main reasons for placing small trees under large ones is that Mother Nature does it. Small trees can serve the landscape well when placed under larger specimens. Again, this is the way that Mother Nature creates landscapes, with understory trees popping up in layers under larger trees. A healthy, sustainable landscape would normally contain large shade or framing trees; medium-sized trees well placed for color and interest; small trees under them for shape, color, texture and form appeal; and ground plane plants such as perennials, ground covers and turfgrasses. Once the layered landscape is developed, it provides beauty and function.

In addition to using small trees for layering, consider them to accent important features of the landscape. Because entrance areas are not always obvious in every setting, you may want to highlight building entrances, driveways and important paths by locating small trees nearby. This helps to focus attention on places where you want people to go or look.

Mother Nature is a good teacher in other tree care areas as well, such as mulching and planting trees from seed. The “stuff” that falls from trees — seeds, leaves, cones, needles, fruits, bud sheaths — creates an excellent natural mulch and should be allowed to accumulate to encourage root growth and expansion. Likewise, tree seeds that germinate develop healthier root systems than ones that are grown in nurseries for several years. Trees grown in nature develop root systems without pot-induced girdling roots and soil interface problems; in many ways, Mother Nature is a good teacher and role model.

Mother Nature landscapes by placing trees under trees and creating depth. Photo: John Fech

Create depth in the golf course landscape

Golf courses, especially smaller facilities without an arborist on staff, can be a good customer and a significant income stream for qualified arborists. Because trees serve several functions on the golf course, care must be taken to identify and validate the purpose and placement of each one. First and foremost, trees serve to define the sides of the fairway. Any landscape space needs enclosure and enframement at some level, and the golf course is no exception. Depending on the level of maintenance of the course, the rough can be at various levels; normally from 2 to 6 inches. The lower the height of cut of the rough, the more trees and shrubs are needed to mark the fairway, providing a target for the golfer. In many cases, mature trees exist with no understory in place.

Tree placement that helps to define the fairway may have several approaches. The “layered” or “tiered” look can be effective, with small to medium-sized shrubs located in the first cut of rough, larger shrubs behind those, with trees of various sizes as a background to the shrubs. Alternatively, masses of small trees intermingled with larger ones can be planted in the deep rough to provide a sharp mass/void feature. This can be quite powerful, creating interest and functional appeal to the golfer.

Other good locations for trees under trees

Just about anywhere except where space is limited — home landscapes, corporate headquarters, city parks, recreation areas — is a good location for incorporating smaller trees under mature ones. The key phrase is “except where space is limited.” If room for adequate rootzone expansion exists, approaching clients with suggested plantings makes good sense.

On the other hand, shopping malls, parking lots, gas stations and along city streets are usually not the best locations for trees under trees and, actually, may not be prime locations for any trees. If space is limited, large and small shrubs, perennial flowers and ground covers are usually better choices than trees.

Placing trees under trees provides many benefits. Photo: John Fech

Site analysis

The best place to start with any planting project is with an accurate base map. The base map provides all necessary information regarding the permanent features of the area to be enhanced, including property lines, easements, building footprints, utility locations, contours and existing plants. A north arrow and graphic scale must be included to provide reference when communicating the eventual design to customers and to retain accurate space relationships if the finished plan is reduced or enlarged.

The overall design concept of incorporating smaller trees under mature ones will dictate the program. Program components quite simply are a listing of wants and desires of the stakeholders of a project. Early on in the design process, they tend to be general. A typical program statement for these types of enhancements would include such things as minimized turf areas, creation of ornamental beds containing fall color and spring blooms, screening, etc. Specific plants are chosen at the end of the design process, not the beginning.

The next step is a site inventory/analysis. This is best performed on site, gathering information, taking notes, and gaining a “sense of place” in the landscape space. The inventory is first, identification of problem areas as well as the assets of an area. Use a piece of tracing paper and lay it over the base map. This provides for accurate note taking and documentation of potential concerns or opportunities for features. You may want to photograph the area for future reference and comparison. If the finished design turns out well, you may want to use the before and after photos to sell a job to another customer. The analysis comes later, an evaluation of the importance of each specific condition. The soils, neighboring views and existing buildings may be only a slight concern, but the slope and prevailing winds may be major contentions.

A bubble diagram should be drawn after the program is in place and the site is analyzed. This will help put the written word into a visual format. Again, working on tracing paper over the base map, diagram the site according to function. Traffic flow, high-use areas, low-use areas, water features, etc., are all components that should be drawn in at this point. Exacting detail is not necessary in a bubble diagram; rather, circles and ovals with a light colored shade will suffice. Concept drawings are then developed, combining the program considerations with the site analysis information and the original design concept.

Site assessment/analysis creates business as well as prevents it. The opportunity to replace severe or moderately pest-susceptible specimens is a good one in that it creates voids that must be filled with better-adapted plant material. That’s one obvious source of income; another is the need for future inspections and analysis, which should not be gratis. Inspections are an important arboricultural and grounds maintenance function and should be profited from accordingly.

As long as the rootzone is adequate, small trees can be incorporated.
Photo: John Fech

Tree selection criteria

After the site analysis is complete, consideration of general and specific issues related to the trees under trees concept can begin. Many issues should be considered and are not limited to the following:

Shade tolerance — Because the new tree will be located under a taller one, it’s a given that partial to heavy shade will be present. Monitor the site at various times of the day to determine whether light shade, dappled shade or heavy shade characterizes the site.

Size — In many landscapes, the lower branches of mature trees have been limbed up to create an unnatural openness. While plant selection for trees under trees is not akin to placing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in place, there is a certain element of choosing based on eventual tree size for all specimens involved.

Rootzone allowance — As mentioned before, adequate root zone allowance is crucial to the success of the enhanced landscape and should not be overlooked.

Disease resistance — Due to the canopy effect of the mature trees and possibly the nearby smaller trees, wind speeds through the modified landscape are likely to be less than the previous condition. Be sure that the specimens chosen are resistant to periodic leaf wetness and a variety of foliar pathogens.

Fall color, bloom sequence — One significant selling point to incorporating smaller trees under larger ones is the opportunity to infuse color and texture into a monochromatic or overly simplistic landscape.

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

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The Problems Associated With Tree Surrounds

You see them in just about every part of the country — I know that I’ve seen them in each of the 40 states I’ve been to. Tree surrounds, or tree rings, are just an odd and head-scratching item in the arboricultural world. You see all types and varieties:

  • Small ones
  • Half-side ones
  • Large and deep ones
  • Dirt over roots, boulders and soil
  • Bricks filled with rock
  • Trunks buried in rocks or wood chips, sometimes referred to as mulch volcanoes

Why they’re used

Perhaps the most important consideration with tree surrounds is to gain an insight into why they’re there in the first place. After all, they cost money to install and need to be maintained. Four main reasons have been identified:

They hide ugly roots. Certain species such as maple, baldcypress and cherry tend to produce roots at or near the surface, in addition to ones deeper in the soil profile. Many clients consider them to be ugly and want them covered with soil or mulch. Others claim they’re a trip hazard, especially older folks. The “ugly” notion is up to the individual, however, there is a certain validity to the trip hazard rationale.

Tree surrounds can encourage stem girdling roots. All photos by John C. Fech, UNL

Grass won’t grow in the shade. Under trees with dense canopies, turfgrass struggles to thrive due to root competition and the shade itself. Turf is best thought of as a sun plant, with even the most shade tolerant species requiring four hours of sunlight. After several years of shade, bare soil usually results, and clients want a replacement plant, something/anything other than dirt or mud.

Tired of hitting their head on low branches. If turf is able to grow to some degree under a shade tree, the need to mow under lower scaffold limbs usually exists. And, naturally, as the focus of the mower operator is on the turf, sometimes they lose track of where they are and bonk their head on the branches that grow low to the ground. Ouch.

“Well, that’s what my parents did.” New, first time homeowners often report that they mimic their parents landscaping techniques, sometimes to a fault. For example, if mom and dad had a hedge, by golly, they want one too — until they realize that you have to shear the thing off several times a year and then gather up all the trimmings and do something with them. The same is true with a tree surround. They think, “If I have a tree in the front yard, then I need a tree ring to go with it.’

Why they’re bad

The previously-identified reasons are pretty strong in a compelling sense, so why is it important to discourage tree surrounds from being installed? Can’t we have both? Can’t we just all get along? Again, here are four reasons:

Soil on the trunk. In almost all tree-surround installations, a considerable amount of soil ends up in direct contact with the bark of the trunk — anywhere between 6 and 30 inches, or so. This usually results in the bark staying wetter than normal after a rainstorm and a reduction in the barks’ photosynthetic capacity. The loss of chlorophyll capacity isn’t that much of a problem, however, the bark being wet for long periods of time is, as it often leads to softening of the tissue and decay.

When mulch is piled on a trunk, it’s just as bad for a tree as a tree surround.

Cutting off soil oxygen. Fibrous roots need oxygen in order to expand and function well. If they’re covered with 2 feet of soil, that capacity is significantly reduced, much like people with asthma have trouble breathing under certain environmental conditions.

Encourages root girdling. Generally, when a tree ring is constructed, it’s filled with freshly-loosened soil to the top of the bricks/boulders/stones/timbers. In some cases, the property owner knows that shade-tolerant perennials or groundcovers grow best in amended soils, thus mixes compost with garden soil that exists on the site. When there’s a difference between the soil surrounding the tree and the amended soil (such as silty, compacted clay of new construction vs. compost or peat moss amended soil), the roots tend to preferentially stay in that, taking the course of least resistance as opposed to venturing out into the rest of the site. This causes circling roots, which eventually develop into stem girdling roots.

It’s just not natural! Maybe the best reason why tree surrounds are bad is that they’re not natural. When was the last time you were walking through a forest and found all those tree surrounds Mother Nature installed? My guess is never. If we’re supposed to follow her lead on tree care (yes, it’s best to follow it), we should avoid tree rings.


Now that we’ve examined why they’re used and why they shouldn’t be there, what should be done with tree surrounds when we have a client with one?

This is a possible alternative to a tree surround.

First, if you take on a client with an older tree (one that has been there for more than 10 years), there’s not much you can do. Hopefully, by now, the roots are out in the landscape. If possible, move the soil away from the trunk without injuring it. If they’ve been there for a short time, say two or three years, remove the boulders/bricks/railroad ties. Examine the roots if they’re visible and be ready with mulch to pile loosely over the mound. This allows for a gradual transition of the roots to a more natural and well-functioning state.

If you’re fortunate enough to spot one that has been recently installed, it’s best to convince the property owner of its negative effects, rip out the hardscape and topdress with mulch. Again, make sure the mulch isn’t piled on the trunk. As much as possible, return the tree ring tree planting to a proper one.

Prevent future injury

As a responsible tree care provider, it’s important to let your current and future clients know that a tree surround is bad landscaping and poor tree care. In any way possible, it’s up to you to communicate the information presented above. Get on Facebook, Twitter and your company newsletter or blog and explain why tree surrounds are bad for trees.

Additionally, contact your friends and colleagues that design and install landscapes and make sure they understand why this is a bad practice. Also, communicate the fact they’re a key player in preventing tree surround installations. If they take your advice, the trees they plant will be healthier, last longer, provide more benefits to their clients and be assets in the landscape, rather than detriments.

Slopes present an extra stress on trees. Tree surrounds that cover only part of the root system are better than ones that cover all of them.

Alternatives to tree surrounds

The message shouldn’t simply be that “tree surrounds are bad.” Instead, it should be that “they’re bad, this is why and here are some alternatives.” To a certain extent, the alternatives are more of a landscape and planting design issue, but at a minimum, a couple of concepts are relatively easy to communicate and easy to understand:

  • First, instead of piling soil around the trunk, plant between or “shoehorn in” some shade-adapted plants between roots.
  • Placing vinca, lamium, lilyturf or Japanese spurge in the gaps works remarkably well both in terms of establishment and minimizing injury to the tree trunk and roots.
  • Another good alternative is even simpler: return the planted to a forest mimic, with mulch over roots pulled away at the trunk. Once the mulch breaks down a little, it becomes a good planting medium for shade-adapted landscape plants.

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from Tree Services

Climbing 101

Climbing 101

Editor’s note: The fundamentals covered in this article are just some of the many things that climbers need to know to be efficient and proficient. It’s important for anyone new to climbing, or who has years of experience but never received formal training, to take a comprehensive class.

There are some pursuits in life, like scrapbooking or watercolor painting, where you can figure it out as you go. Climbing trees — safely and properly — is not one of those things. While there’s room for tweaks based on personal preference, there very definitely are right and wrong, safe and unsafe, efficient and inefficient ways of doing almost everything when it comes to climbing.

We asked a few climbing instructors about some of the most important fundamentals they cover when teaching students how to climb in order to work aloft:

Gearing up

  • Gary Gross is president of the New England Tree Climbing Association, a group of six schools in the Northeast that train those who want to work in the tree care profession, as well as some recreational tree climbers. One of the first things Gross covers in his trainings are the names of the various gear and techniques
  • What may seem obvious to those who are experienced climbers may be new to those just getting started. Take ropes, for example. “We convey that you can’t use just any rope, and that you can’t go by the size of the rope in determining how strong it is. We will show students pieces of rope where the fatter one is rated for 150 pounds and the thinner one is rated for 1,500 pounds,” says Gross.
  • Knowledge about gear is important, but gear alone doesn’t make a climber more proficient, says J. David Mattox, forestry supervisor with the city of Manhattan, Kansas, and an arborist who teaches climbing classes, including for the Kansas Arborists Association’s week-long Arborist Training Program. “Gear is cool — there’s a lot of great gear out there these days, and it’s easy to get carried away and start wanting to accumulate a lot of gear,” says Mattox.
  • Mattox explains that new climbers should begin by focusing on just the basics. “When I started, there were only a few different kinds of rope, for example. Now there are dozens of different types of rope with different characteristics, and some of it is compatible with some gear and some isn’t,” he says. “So, it’s easy for new climbers to get confused and overwhelmed and end up with a system that isn’t compatible within itself.”
  • In his trainings, Mattox emphasizes a foundation built on the very basics of a climbing system: “a rope and a saddle and a basic bowline tie-in and a Blake’s hitch and figure-8 terminations,” for example.
  • Learning to tie a variety of different knots correctly is essential to climbing safely and improving as a climber, stresses Mattox. And there’s a right and wrong way to do this: “One bad habit I encounter is ‘knot tricks’ — learning knots through some sort of mnemonic technique (like the bowline knot, which is sometimes explained as a rabbit coming up out of its hole and going around a tree),” says Mattox. “You need to learn to know a knot by the actual elements of the knot, because if you learn to tie a knot with a trick, you don’t actually know if you have the knot tied correctly or not.” He says he’s a big believer in knot practice: “You know your knots well enough when you can tie them blindfolded or behind your back, preferably both,” he explains, because that’s sometime roughly what you need to do in a tree.
  • When learning to tie knots, it’s also important to learn the concept of controlling slack, says Mattox, “so you don’t get all kinds of slack and extra rope that confuses you when you’re tying the knot.”

It’s important for beginning climbers to learn both safety and efficiency, says Gary Gross with the New England Tree Climbing Association.

Starting at ground level

  • Successful climbing begins before you ever get in a tree, say the experts. Ben Larson, an arborist and owner of Bluebird Tree Care in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has taught climbing classes for Spokane Community College in Washington for three years. It’s a 32-hour program spread out over eight weeks. Before even looking at a tree, he starts with classroom instruction on things like forces and equipment, including details like the ratings of carabiners. He also covers ANSI standards, how to inspect ropes and other safety information. Then there’s knot-tying and more.
  • While admittedly dry, these are things that climbers need to know, says Larson. “Unfortunately, many companies will just throw a guy a harness and say, ‘Here you go,’” he notes. “You need to start with a good basis.”
  • There’s more prep work to do once outside and on-site. “One of the more critical elements of climbing is inspecting the tree for safety,” emphasizes Gross. “You need to look at things like whether the branches are dead; whether there’s a lot of root exposure; whether there’s insect damage… because you’re going to be hanging on a rope up there and you want to make sure your anchor is secure.” Mistakes made in this area can be deadly, he points out, so learning how to properly assess a tree is essential to becoming a safe, proficient climber.
  • Mattox agrees, noting that while it’s easy for those just starting out to focus only on the technical aspects of climbing, a proficient climber needs to also be aware of the tree. For instance, he says that climbers should learn about and be aware of the relative wood strengths of different tree species: “A cottonwood is not nearly as strong as a bur oak, for example.”
  • Mattox also advises learning how to identify things like squirrel damage and cavities in the tree. “Have that species awareness and be aware of what that sunken patch of bark or that black patch that may be a canker and indicate the tree is compromised — all of these things mean something… it takes time to develop that judgment…but the more time you take to develop that judgment, the better you’ll be able to do it.”

Instructor J. David Mattox demonstrates the body thrust climbing technique to a class.

Up in the tree

A single-line ascent system with one end of the line anchored to a mini Port-A-Wrap for rescue purposes is an example of a system that would roughly double the forces at the tie-in point.

  • Climbers learn early on in trainings how to get a rope up in a tree and what sort of tie-ins to look for: Ideally, tie-in points should be high (above where you’ll be working) and centrally located in the tree, says Mattox.
  • Becoming a truly proficient climber means taking this general knowledge and applying it to the specific tree being climbed and the work being done. This means developing a work plan, Mattox explains. That work plan would, for example, identify the best tie-in points for that tree. “When you put the rope up in the tree, you need to get it over something that’s sizable enough and secure enough to hold you while you make your ascent — that’s primary,” says Mattox. “Also, as you enter the tree, you want to position your rope high enough that it gives you a good place to make entry into a tree, so that you don’t climb up and find yourself under a big lateral branch that you’ll have to throw and leg over or muscle your way around — you want to position your entry to where you can climb up and step off on a nice lateral branch and be secure when you hook your lanyard to it.”
  • Another factor that will influence the choice of tie-ins is the type of work being done, Mattox adds: “If you’re just going to remove a broken, hanging limb on one side, you’ll approach the tree differently than if you’re going to prune the tree or possibly remove the tree. You need to plan where you’re going to end up in the tree accordingly. Look the tree over, visualize what you’re wanting to accomplish and how you’re going to go about that. And then realize that the tree will probably trick you!”
  • Once tied in and working in a tree, “the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) says you’re supposed to be anchored in two places,” says Gross, “so we teach students how to get that second anchor and how to bring up the safety lanyard and… how to loop that over another branch or around the tree.” The main anchor point still needs to be able to hold you, he emphasizes, but the safety lanyard provides not only backup but also the ability to pull yourself left or right, etc., as work needs to be done.
  • “With some of these adjustable safety lanyards that you loop around a branch or the tree, you can use them to…help you move around in the tree, while the whole time being anchored in at two places,” Gross explains. In some cases, it can be used to help pull a climber back away from the tree.”
  • Let’s say you’re going to be using your chain saw, but you’re right up on top of your work, so the blade is too close to you — you can use a safety lanyard over a branch that’s over your shoulder or behind you to pull your body back away,” Gross says. Getting into the proper position in the tree to do work is critical from both a safety and an efficiency standpoint.
  • On that topic, Mattox says that one of the hardest things to teach a new climber is to use the work positioning system as it’s intended to be used: “Lean back in that saddle, get a wide stance with your feet so that you’ll be secure and you can use your hands to move around,” he explains. “Instead, they want to hug the tree and get as close to it as possible…. You need to learn to trust the system.”
  • As far as technique goes, many climbing instructors, including Larson, start students with double-rope, and primarily focus on this technique: “I think it’s a little safer and a little easier.” He does at least introduce students to single-rope technique near the end of his trainings. He also discusses things like rope wrenches and ascenders, and talks about the advantages and disadvantages of the different techniques. “But I do think that you should always learn double-rope first,” emphasizes Larson. “Single-rope is a little more for advanced climbers.”

A class practices their knot-tying skills before engaging in climbing.

Room for improvement

  • Larson says that, when it comes to improving as a climber, watching others is helpful but there’s no substitute for getting in a tree yourself and practicing, preferably in a nonproduction setting at first. Trying to learn on the job is difficult, he says: “You can be an apprentice in some industries, but if you’re up in a tree, you’d better know what you’re doing.”
  • Larson explains that as they progress, climbers can benefit from “a lot of little tricks that can just save a whole lot of labor.” This includes throwline tricks such as “the trick stick” of placing a stick on the string to get it to walk into the crotch of the tree where you want it, and throwing techniques for getting good, high tie-in points. “If you can get a good, high tie-in for either a removal or pruning job, it’s going to save you a ton of labor in trying to just scramble up there,” he explains. “There are a lot of little tricks…to help you be efficient and save energy.”
  • To be proficient, a climber needs to be efficient, stresses Gross. One key lesson to learn: “It’s legs; it’s not arms,” he says. “When people see a person go up in a tree, they say, ‘Wow, that’s like Tarzan.’ But it’s all about legs. If you can climb a ladder, you can climb a rope. You’re using foot loops and other techniques, but basically you’re just bending your knees and standing up, the equivalent of going up a ladder in terms of force.”
  • If you learn to climb properly, “you’re not only going to come home safe to your family at night, your body is going to be in a lot better shape in 20 years, too,” says Gross.
  • If you want to improve and become a more proficient climber, you need to push yourself, says Mattox. “To keep progressing in the way you need to, you need to be confronted with work situations that challenge you,” he states. “A lot of people won’t progress much if they’re left to their own comfort level; you increase your skills by pushing that comfort level as you gain experience with work.”

Ropes, saddles, carabiners, knots, hazard checks — there’s plenty to learn about in a training program before ever getting up in a tree.

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from Tree Services

Spar Pole Rigging The Right Way

Spar pole rigging is one of the most basic rigging systems, one that most, if not all, tree folk are familiar with. In this system, a trunk with few or no branches left is lowered down under control in manageable pieces to the ground. Although this technique is familiar to many, and seems quite basic in appearance, if not understood and carried out correctly it can lead to less-than-positive, if not catastrophic, outcomes.

While the written word and pictures can illustrate some of the forces involved, methods used and pros/cons of spar pole rigging, this should only be considered an introduction and not sufficient for Johnny B. O’Doughnuts to go scrambling up that white pine towering over the greenhouse ready to bring it down “chunky style.” The use of instructional videos through the “Interweb” or DVDs is highly recommended, hopefully followed up with hands-on field-based instruction in the step-by-step process by experienced climbers and riggers. Spar pole rigging is an excellent, safe and efficient technique to have in that mental toolbox, and an understanding of some of the ins and outs of it provided by this column will help Johnny along the path to rigging success.

When 500 pounds doesn’t mean 500 pounds

Forces in rigging is particularly important when the topic is spar pole rigging. Climbers and crews must always keep in mind that when using this technique the climber is attached to the spar, which also provides the rigging point. Thus, whatever forces are generated by the piece of wood are transmitted to the very thing that is keeping the climber aloft, not to mention the climber’s soft tissue and relatively fragile physiology. At a minimum, a 2-to-1 force factor will be present when spar pole rigging.

An arborist block secured with a cow hitch with a better half as it would be in a spar pole rigging system. Photo: Michael Tain

An arborist block secured with a cow hitch with a better half as it would be in a spar pole rigging system.
Photo: Michael Tain

In simple terms, this means that if the piece weighs 500 pounds, then 500 pounds of force will be required to keep it aloft or control it, which in turn means the rigging point, typically immediately adjacent to the climber, will experience at least 1,000 pounds of force. Needless to say, this can lead to some interesting rapid movements, resulting in bruises, contusions and fractures, or even catastrophic failure of the entire spar itself.

The farther the piece falls prior to coming under the control of the rigging system, the greater the force is magnified, thus a block set well beneath the piece exponentially increases the forces experienced by the spar and the attached climber. This leads to the safest place for the placement of the rigging point on the spar being immediately below the piece, typically near the climber’s tie-in point, which adds its own complications. The reality of spar pole rigging is that reducing the forces experienced is the prime directive.

Energy flows and is absorbed, it doesn’t disappear

Most experienced spar pole riggers have spent years taking every branch off as they ascend the tree, taking the top out upon reaching it, and then working their way back down lowering pieces off the spar. However, field research/testing and personal experience have shown that leaving branches, where possible, attached to the trunk of the tree being removed significantly lessens the forces experienced at the anchor point high up the trunk. By leaving branches on the trunk during ascent, those branches actually absorb and dampen some of the forces experienced by the trunk during rigging, lessening the forces experienced at the anchor point and trunk movement.

It's an excellent idea to practice tying the various knots and hitches required in spar pole rigging at the safety of ground level until proficient. Photo: Michael Tain

It’s an excellent idea to practice tying the various knots and hitches required in spar pole rigging at the safety of ground level until proficient.
Photo: Michael Tain

This option won’t be possible on every tree and in every scenario, but when able climbers should attempt to create a “chute” that the pieces of the spar can be lowered down through, thus dramatically lessening the forces the spar and climber will experience during rigging.

When it’s not possible to leave branches to absorb energy, the climber and crew should be aware of the heightened forces that will be generated and either reduce the size of the pieces removed accordingly or take some of the other steps described to absorb the force generated.

Lowering is a required skill

One of the best ways to minimize the forces generated at the rigging point is in the hands of the oft maligned but highly influential branch manager. Two primary factors come into play in this force minimization: rope choice and lowering technique. Climbers and crews that get hung up on the strength of the rigging line without considering its elongation or elasticity are setting themselves up for a trip to the land of bad things.

A Port-a-Wrap is secured at the base of the tree with a timber hitch to control the piece's descent during spar pole rigging. Photo: Michael Tain

A Port-a-Wrap is secured at the base of the tree with a timber hitch to control the piece’s descent during spar pole rigging.
Photo: Michael Tain

A rope with extremely high strength but no elasticity does not have the ability to absorb any of the energy generated by the plummeting piece, thus all that force goes into the rigging point, spar and attached climber. Therefore, consider elongation of the rigging line along with strength. In addition, the gradual slowing or deceleration of the piece, as opposed to a sudden stop, will lessen the forces experienced at the rigging point.

Using any of the various lowering devices available, such as the Port-a-Wrap III, GRCS or Hobbs, will result in smoother and more controlled lowering than the traditional “tree wraps.” Experienced ground personnel can certainly accomplish smooth, controlled descents with tree wraps, but the use of lowering devices ensures that the friction level is the same regardless of tree species, and makes the operation more efficient by eliminating the tedious process of going around the tree with the rigging line again and again.

A piece of wood is on its way to the ground in a spar pole rigging system. Note the climber's escape route line descending to the ground. Photo: H.Neustaeter

A piece of wood is on its way to the ground in a spar pole rigging system. Note the climber’s escape route line descending to the ground. Photo: H.Neustaeter

The best climber in the area will have an extremely bad day with a branch manager that is unfamiliar with smoothly slowing a piece during its descent to the ground; and climbers would do well to keep that in mind when verbally abusing ground personnel, as even an experienced branch manager can make a mistake after being yelled at one too many times. Situations will arise where a controlled “run-out” of the piece is not possible, perhaps due to hazards or obstacles beneath it, but the crew and climber must simply recognize this and prepare themselves as well as possible for the forces that will be generated and ensure the spar and climber can endure them.

Read more: 5 Tips for Spar Pole Rigging

When you gotta get away

If a crew is felling trees at ground level, a key component of the felling plan is their escape route, the ability to get away is just as important when aloft. After all, when one is 100 feet up in a Douglas fir spar, simply turning and running is not an option. Climbers must have a way to get quickly, safely and efficiently to the ground should it be required; and spur climbing down is not quick, safe or efficient, nor is it an escape route.

There’s a wide variety of systems, ranging from the simple to the complex, that allow a climber to be tied in to either a single or doubled-line system while on a spar. Climbers should choose the system that works best for them. Once that choice has been made, the system must be used when doing spar pole rigging – personal experience has shown that spur climbing down with an injury or while being attacked by insects is not a viable option, nor is it very pleasant.

An old-school original forest gangsta (OFG) is ready to take on a spar pole, no escape route available. Photo: H.Neustaeter

An old-school original forest gangsta (OFG) is ready to take on a spar pole, no escape route available. Photo: H.Neustaeter

Cuttin’ with no chuckin’

A climber aloft is required to be secured by two methods while operating a chain saw, and this requirement becomes even more vital when carrying out spar pole rigging. Typically, the cut being made is quite close to the climber’s system, which is preventing him from experiencing the inevitability, and attendant pain, of gravity. Being secured by two methods gives the climber a backup if something goes a little sideways with the cut and a rope or lanyard gets severed. In addition, the way in which the cut is made can affect forces at the anchor point and spar movement.

An illustration of the minimum force present in spar pole rigging. Illustration courtesy of Michael Tain.

An illustration of the minimum force present in spar pole rigging. Illustration courtesy of Michael Tain.

The use of a 45-degree notch while aloft will cause maximum pushback on the spar right at the moment of separation. Needless to say, this can lead to the climber performing some interesting “dance moves” high in the air. Climbers familiar and skilled with the open-face notch of 70 to 90 degrees will find it equally useful aloft, but should keep in mind that opening the notch too greatly will cause the piece to pull the spar with it prior to separation, once again leading to dance moves. In most cases, the best degree of opening is one that will allow the piece to separate when horizontal or slightly above horizontal with the ground below.

There is a great deal more involved with spar pole rigging than the basic methods, forces and techniques discussed here, but this discussion does provide an introduction to this useful technique, which can lead to safer and more efficient removals. The addition of spar pole rigging to a tree crews’ toolbox will not only help them get the job done, but make sure that when the top goes down, they’re ready.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated.

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from Tree Services

Crane Operation

Crane operation

The tree care industry has taken advantage of the capabilities of construction cranes and similar pieces of equipment for quite a few years, but the last 10 to 20 years have seen a large increase in their use throughout tree care, regardless of geographic location or market size.

There is no secret behind this expansion of crane use amongst climbing arborists, cranes are extremely useful, and in many hazard tree situations, vital pieces of equipment that can, if properly employed and operated, increase the safety and efficiency of many whole-tree removals, and even large pruning jobs in sensitive target-rich environments. Beyond these typical uses, tree companies with cranes in their inventory, or access to a rental unit with “tree work-friendly” operators, often find that these pieces of equipment have far more applications than they ever thought of. From simplifying and speeding the removal of large amounts of debris from “access troublesome” backyards to providing a safe tie-in point for a climber when working on a tree that is unsafe to climb, yet inaccessible to an aerial lift.

When any different or new piece of gear, method or technique is added to a tree crew’s physical and mental toolbox, knowledge, information and training must be part of the equation, lest inappropriate or unsafe use lead to a disaster. After all, larger things – and a crane, no matter how small and maneuverable, certainly qualifies as relatively larger – have larger, bigger and heavier consequences when things go wrong. There are a number of ongoing seminars, courses, demonstrations and hands-on field exercises pertaining to the safe use of cranes in tree care operations offered by different training companies and industry professional organizations, but as a minimum, an excellent place to start is the 2006 version of the Z133.1 (American National Standard for Arboricultural Operations: Safety Requirements), which has a section on crane use in tree care. Prospective arborist crane users should also keep in mind that their individual state or province might have additional rules/regulations/standards regulating tree care crane use and inform themselves accordingly.

A crane flipped onto its side during tree care operations. PHOTO: SCOTT PROPHETT

A crane flipped onto its side during tree care operations. PHOTO: SCOTT PROPHETT

Communication systems

Communication is a key element of all tree care activities, not only for the safety of those aloft and on the ground, but also for the efficient accomplishment of the task at hand. Throw a large motorized piece of equipment that towers over the work site into the mix, and communication becomes even more important. The frustrating experience of attempting to communicate effectively between the canopy and the ground is one that all tree crews are familiar with, adding the engine noise of the crane, a crane operator who may not be able to see the climber (and vice versa) and typically greater work heights all are factors that make communication during crane operations even more challenging.

There are a large number of communication systems available, ranging from simple hand/arm signals, such as illustrated in the appendix of the Z133.1, to voice-activated throat mikes and muff radio systems that can be fitted on existing helmets or hard hats. Regardless of which system is chosen, it is vital that all work participants know and understand the various signals or systems prior to the job beginning. Trying to remember what channel one is supposed to be on, or what the hand and arm signal for “boom up” is with a 5,000-pound piece of wood hanging free is not a good indicator that the job is going smoothly, let alone safely.

Additionally, situations that prevent the climber and crane operator from being in visual contact require that a spotter be used to not only carry out the important role of relaying signals, but, if necessary, inform the climber/crane operator what is occurring at the other end of the “stick.”

A crane lowers a large piece directly into the back of a waiting truck. PHOTO: SCOTT PROPHETT

A crane lowers a large piece directly into the back of a waiting truck. PHOTO: SCOTT PROPHETT

Crane and work site setup

Planning for crane and worksite setup should begin with the first person looking at, or estimating, the job. As much as is possible, everything that might affect crane operation and use should be considered and planned for, this includes traffic control requirements; size and capacity of the crane needed; suitability of ground and space available for crane use; power lines, septic tanks, overhead communication lines and other hazards; will additional cribbing or blocking be needed for the outriggers of the crane; is the tree safe to climb, or might a second crane be needed for a TIP; etc. Cranes are designed, constructed and intended to be operated in a uniformly level position on a firm surface that will adequately support not only their weight, but the additional weight they will be lifting and moving. In some situations, a great deal of time, energy and materials may be necessary to create an appropriate setup. Shortcuts or shoddy work in this area are an excellent way to end up purchasing a client’s newly crane bisected house, let alone the emotional cost of a possible death or injury to a crew member.

An additional part of this planning process should be the location of trucks and chippers in relation to the crane and tree for efficient removal of woody debris, saving time and energy by using a crane is not helpful if the branch managers have to hand carry every piece a great distance to the chipper.

Operator requirements

How well or how poorly the crane is operated can often be the difference between a safe, efficient tree job and one that will give the company owner night sweats.

A tree company that owns or is interested in purchasing its own crane should be aware that some states and/or municipalities require licensing for crane operation; and given the amount of money typically spent on a crane, “on-the-job” training for the chosen operator may not be the best choice for long-term crane, crew and company financial survival. Crane operator training courses, though not always tree industry specific, are readily available in most states/provinces.

Should a tree care company prefer to rent a crane for individual jobs, they should request an operator from the company who is familiar with crane tree work, as it can be very different from construction crane use. Repeat business with a particular crane rental company can help both the tree and crane company know what they can expect from one another and grow more efficient in their tree crane operations.

A piece being balanced by slings during the pick while the climber remains in the tree. PHOTO: SCOTT PROPHETT

A piece being balanced by slings during the pick while the climber remains in the tree. PHOTO: SCOTT PROPHETT

Tie-in Points (TIPs)

Should a climber be using a crane as their TIP, there are a number of requirements of how they must secure themselves. Climbers can be lifted into the tree by a crane or use it as a tie-in point only when the person responsible for the work has decided a crane is the safest and most practical method available. TIPs should be secure, such as locking shackles, avoiding possible failures in the climbing system, should not interfere with any of the crane’s warning or operational devices, and should be designated anchor points on the boom or lift line.

Putting the work positioning lanyard through the hook, regardless of how it is attached to the climber’s harness, is not an appropriate or acceptable method. When the crane comes under load, the climber should be detached from the crane and attached to the tree itself, an adjacent tree, an aerial lift or even a second crane. If none of these options are available, or if they would create an unsafe situation, the climber may stay attached to a crane under load. When the climber is still attached to a crane under load, the operator must not exceed 50 percent of the crane’s load capacity at the existing boom angle and extension.

A crane job gone bad, and given the lack of hard hats on the work site, more bad things may be on the way. PHOTO BY ED ABELL.

A crane job gone bad, and given the lack of hard hats on the work site, more bad things may be on the way.


As strong and versatile as a crane might be, it is only designed for static lifting of loads, not for the dynamic forces of tree pieces/parts being “dropped” or felling into the load line or hook.

There is a wide variety of aerial chain saw cutting techniques that will assist climbing arborists in keeping loads as static as possible and avoiding unintended, and often catastrophic, dynamic loading of cranes. Excellent reference tools for crane operators and ground personnel are a green weight log chart or the Rigging Software 1.0 program loaded on a handheld device. Both of these will help the climber and operator be more confident about the weight of the intended lift and plan accordingly, particularly as it allows an operator with digital readout on the crane to put a roughly appropriate amount of lift on the piece prior to it being cut, helping prevent pinched saws or wild, sudden movements.

Obviously, the use of cranes in tree operations is a much more involved and complicated subject than the space available to discussed it here, but this introduction, in conjunction with additional knowledge and qualified field training, can help tree crews use this efficient piece of equipment not only to its full capacity, but also safely.

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

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