Winter 2020: Identifying overhead hazards in your back yard

By Roger DeGood - Guest Columnist

The impetus that started all the Swanton Tree Commission activity was a visit, in 2005, by Stephanie Miller, Ohio DNR Division of Forestry, Region 4 Urban Forester. She was asked to help Village officials evaluate the existing Village urban forest (i.e. trees on public land) and point out any hazardous trees.

The process resulted in the discovery of over 100 trees that were either dead, dying or in need of a major prune – a considerable risk to life and limb (no pun intended). Since then the Village has been working on mitigation by removing and replacing portions of the tree infrastructure that jeopardize public safety.

They have been planting in relatively new development areas where street trees were never planted. They also made changes to their subdivision development codes so that, in the future, street trees will be part of any new landscape.

So, how does a common property owner know if he has an issue with trees on his property that might raise the pulse rate of his insurance underwriter? With the assistance of The Arbor Day Foundation and their Tree City USA program, we have some techniques you can use to tell if you have an issue. These are all observation techniques that can be done from the ground with the naked eye. Most are logical kind of things.

Examine the top and crown.

Are there broken or dead limbs? Is the tree vigorous and healthy in appearance? Are there signs of disease or insect infestation? What is the history of the tree such as past storm damage or nearby construction? Are there limbs that are falling, or rubbing against another?

Check the trunk.

Are there any major forks in the trunks? Is the tree leaning, especially towards dwellings, structures, utilities, places of recreation or the street? Are there signs of decay such as where branches have broken or “is there a fungus among us”? Is the trunk wounded, for example from lightning, auto accident or the infamous string trimmer-itis?

Don’t forget the roots.

Again, mushrooms are not a good thing. Have any roots been severed by sidewalk or driveway installation, sewer/water line work or irrigation system installation?

Now let’s say you have discovered an issue. What do you do about it? If you have the equipment and training, you might be able to remove small branches safely. There is a multitude of good information in the brochure bank located at Village Municipal Building on pruning techniques and the tools necessary for a successful and safe job. (Remember, no tree ever died from a proper prune job.)

Follow these simple rules:

– Trim only small limbs, 3-inches or less that can be reached from the ground.

– Never use a ladder or a truck bed to access the offending tree.

– Be sure to take proper precautions and wear the appropriate safety gear such as safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, and hardhat. Never, never attempt to do anything to a tree (or its branches) that is near a power or utility line or a tree that is within the tree lawn. Call the utility company or Village and report the situation to them. They are trained to handle these situations and you are not.

If you discover more severe conditions that could potentially damage life or limb such as, but not limited to, large branch decay/damage, wounds, fungus or lack of vitality put a call in to a local ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) Certified Arborist. They will gladly come out (no, you don’t have to make an office appointment and drag the offending specimen to them) and review the situation and give you an estimate of the cost to correct the issue.

Sometimes the remediation is as simple as trimming and pruning. However, if property or life is endangered, the prudent solution would be removal. Remember the overall value of a living mature tree usually far exceeds the cost of removal.

If you have additional questions, need an opinion or help finding an arborist, don’t forget there is plenty of printed information in the brochure bank at Village Municipal Building, on the Village website and Facebook page, or you can contact any Tree Commission member and they can point you in the right direction.

By Roger DeGood

Guest Columnist