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Wouldn't it be nice if trees came with check engine lights, too?

Time for a Quick Safety Check!

March 13, 2014

Imagine driving along the countryside roads on a bright, sunny day-rays of light warm your smiling face as open windows welcome fresh air to circulate throughout the interior of your car.

You're happy to spend this moment soaking in the pleasant weather you've hoped to experience for oh-so-long-when all of a sudden that pesky service engine light illuminates within the display on your dashboard. Although this interruption to your carefree moment notifies you of something that needs attention, you appreciate the prompt reminder. As the saying goes, it's better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes down to protecting your most valued possessions for the sake of lengthening their lifetimes.

Trees, for example, are incredible assets to your landscape and can provide so many benefits. But sometimes, trees can pose a safety risk. It's not their fault really; it's more of a situation of their surroundings.

Wouldn't it be nice if trees had a safety light, too? In light of severe storms, strange weather patterns, and other environmental conditions, it would be much easier to determine when your "green" friends need your attention. Because trees do not have that feature, however, it's important to check them once spring rolls around, which is hopefully soon (crossing our fingers!), to ensure your trees are strong assets to your property vs. safety hazards.

But what exactly should you be looking for? Fortunately, Davey Tree Service's R.J. Laverne, board-certified master arborist, and manager of education and training has determined some tips for best identifying and remedying tree concerns.

SAFETY CHECK TASK #1: Determine the Tree's Target(s)

A tree that has become a risk to your property means it creates an unacceptable level of structural and/or safety concerns. "There is a certain amount of risk, or threshold, associated with that tree you're willing to accept," Laverne explains. "It's ultimately up to the property owner to determine which thresholds apply to his or her trees."

For example, property managers have a greater concern for public safety than homeowners, whose landscapes do not necessarily receive many visitors. Although homeowners may have higher tolerance levels for risks associated with their trees, historical or sentimental values may skew those levels as well.

A professionally trained arborist will help property owners determine an acceptable level of risk by simply reporting the risks they observe. "Risk is not just a function of the tree; it's also the occupancy rate of people and/or objects surrounding it at any time," Laverne says. "Typically, the higher the occupancy rate, the higher the risk of the tree to cause harm."

So, you can remove the target. Move the people or objects surrounding the tree to reduce the likelihood of impact, or you can create a barrier around the tree to prevent people from approaching it.

SAFETY CHECK TASK #2: Determine the Tree's Stability

"It's useful to think of trees in two ways, either as assets or liabilities," Laverne says. "All trees are living organisms, and as long as they stay structurally sound and live vigorously, they'll remain assets as long as they grow."

If you observe a structural problem with your tree, you can treat it. Prune a dead branch to reduce the likelihood the tree will fail; install cables and braces to reduce the likelihood the tree will split, or assess decay located in the trunk to reduce the likelihood the crown will fail.

When determining whether it's time to remove a tree, it's important to balance the consideration for client safety, the ecosystem services the tree provides and the potential to maximize tree benefits. Because large, mature trees provide the most ecosystem services, such as air pollution reduction, storm runoff reduction, shade, and energy conservation, questioning their potential removal is more difficult to consider.

"You wouldn't get rid of a new car if it only had a flat tire; that's an easy fix considering the mileage it has left," Laverne says. "Trees are the same way they can often benefit you for many more years."

In our next post, we'll give you specific examples to help you determine when it's time to remove a tree.

If you think your safety check needs an extra set of eyes, contact your local Davey office for a free consultation. 

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