Reproduced from Arbor Age magazine, September 1997

Big Tree Takedown

Bringin' 'Em Down
By Nancy Sappington

When a youthful George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, he got into trouble because he did it without permission. He was also foolish in another respect. Washington probably had little experience taking down trees, especially big trees, and it takes a lot of experience to take down big trees successfully.

The ultimate decision to take down a tree lies with the client, but it is up to the arborist to provide the client with the proper information with which to make that decision.

Tim Jackson, who does national recruiting and training for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Kent, Ohio, says that it's time to recommend a tree removal when the tree has become a hazard. For instance, if the trunk of a tree is over 30 percent decayed, removal should be considered. "Every time we cut down a tree we lose a customer," says Jackson. Whenever possible he tries to work with the tree to save it.

This limb is being positioned so it can be lowered safely to the ground
Photo courtesy: D.J. Snyder

Recognizing Hazard Trees
Learning about individual tree species and being familiar their growth patterns helps you to determine whether a particular tree presents a hazard. With this understanding you can recognize damaged crowns, cracks or leans in tree trunks, basal root problems or poor orientation. Then you can evaluate and determine if the tree can be saved by some mechanical means such as cabling and bracing or if it really needs to come down.

Hazardous tree removal - click to see larger view.
This 65-foot lift with a two-man bucket helps to make hazardous tree removal more efficient and safer. Photo courtesy The Asplundh Tree Expert Company.

Knowing your trees will also help you to anticipate how the tree will react during the takedown process. Determining the type of wood from a particular tree, i.e., soft or hard, is critical for a smooth operation. It's necessary to be able to estimate the weight of a tree in order to choose the right equipment for the job.

Old plantantion loses an oak - click for larger view
An old plantation in Louisiana looses an oak.
Photo by Albin P. Dearing V, The Davey Tree Expert Company.

DJ Snyder photo - click to see         larger view
Working in tight quarters presents many safety challenges.
Photo courtesy: D.J. Snyder.

Plan Ahead
A tree that is leaning precariously over a rooftop, especially a neighbor's, presents a liability problem. But swinging large pieces of wood about a heavily trafficked area also should be cause for concern.

A successful tree takedown may seem to go quickly and smoothly, but be assured there is a lot of analysis, preparation and rehearsal before the event takes place.

Manually climbing a tree and taking it down is more time-consuming than using a crane and bucket. But with heavy equipment comes costly overhead. Also, the location of the tree will help you determine what equipment you use. Donald Blair states in his book, Arborist Equipment, "Considering the fact that many of our largest trees are now living and dying in backyards, the options of a crane, aerial lift and free falling are not available. We have to take these trees on their own ground with what we can carry through a 30-inch gate."

For manual takedowns there is an array of equipment available -- pulleys, blocks, ropes and lowering devices to name a few. When you make your equipment selections, it is paramount that you fully understand the factors that affect the strength and performance of the equipment.

After making proper equipment selections, a coordinated, team-effort is the next thing to strive for. Jackson holds job briefings with his crew. This gives the foreman and the crew an opportunity to look at the tree and discuss how to bring it down.

Removal of a large piece - click for a larger view.

A climber reties to a different position to prepare for the removal of another large piece. Photo courtesy: D.J. Snyder

D.J. Snyder, owner of the D.J. Snyder Company in Newtonville, Massachusetts, also holds team meetings before starting projects. Snyder mostly uses his 12.5-ton crane with a 95-foot boom to do takedowns. The preliminary meetings he holds are important for determining the position of equipment and for doing safety checks.

Snyder, who has been taking trees down since 1982 and apprenticed two years prior to that, has developed a management technique that wins him cooperation from the group. He stresses the positive, not the negative. "We should say what we should do as opposed to saying what not to do," he says.

Going into Action
Once the operation begins, Jackson explains that a rhythm starts going. It's important for the climber not to put the full burden on the ground crew and not try to "bury the ground crew." Safety should always be first and with this comes consideration for others.

Besides using national operators' hand signals, Snyder and his crew use communicators (earpieces with a transmitter) to discuss critical moves during the process.

Knowing where to make cuts, making good cuts and correct rigging are all necessary for a safe and successful job. Nevertheless, all trees are individual. Jackson says that there are some trees that "you could fold up and put in a shoe box." There are other "headache" trees that fight the takedown all the way. He cautions that big tree removal should not be attempted unless you have experience.

For the arborist who wants to learn big tree takedown, there are technical schools, in-house training from the larger companies and apprenticeships available. Jackson recommends starting out with small trees and gradually working your way up to bigger removals. With experience, comes efficiency, safety and a smooth operation. Jackson says, "You have to be able to visualize the takedown."

Finally, Blair offers these words of advice in his book. "Learn your craft. Have fun with rigging, but make safety your prime concern. Always do a visual inspection for obvious and obscure hazards before beginning the climb. Investigate hollow sounding trunks and decay fruiting bodies as needed to ensure the ability of the tree to sustain the stresses of removal.

Ailing tree threatened power lines - click for larger view.
This large oak tree was eight feet across at the base. The ailing tree threatened power lines and passersby.
Photo courtesy:
The Asplundh Tree Expert Company.

"Never lose sight of the fact that your business survival is more certain if you specialize in tree preservation. Remove when you have to, but endeavor to learn 10 times more about such preservation arts as pruning, cabling, bracing, fertilization, pest and disease diagnosis and hazard tree evaluation."


Still Goin' Strong

Ben Ender - click for larger vivew.
A youthful Ender finishes up a job.
Photo courtesy: Ben Ender.

Ben Ender, owner of the Ender Tree Service in Lakeland, Florida, keeps the business working as well as himself. He has been a professional arborist for over 52 years and, at nearly 72, he is still taking down trees.

In July Ender took down a wind-damaged sycamore that measured 15 feet in circumference, five feet in diameter and 90 feet tall. It produced eight tons of wood and five tons of chips.

Ender began his career in 1945 in Wisconsin. After 27 years, the decision was made to move to Florida and he established his tree business in 1972.

Ender's top bucket operator, George Stanfel, has been with the company for over twenty years. Stanfel can snake the bucket truck and boom through close quarters and entanglements.

Ender says, "Trees are a silent witness to the passing of time. A shade tree may have a hundred enemies, but with one good friend, it's chance of life is good, if that friend arranges some tree care."

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