Ancient Southern Oak Tree

Tree climbing was a favorite pastime of mine while growing up. Being called a “tomboy” was a personal goal. Gymnastics combined with a great deal of outdoor play gave me a good deal of physical strength. I would often scramble up the oaks in the back yard to the slimmest branches that could bear my weight and yet still allow me to nestle into a crotch between the branch and trunk. There I would read a favorite book, knowing that a pesky younger sister or brother could not reach me. I would also pretend that I didn’t hear my mom calling me to do chores, although that was difficult to achieve when she was standing at the base of the tree! Now that I am in my 60s, I continue to appreciate being up in a tree but prefer climbing up steps that lead into a tree house. When it comes to climbing a tree for any other reason, I call a professional.

Not all tree climbers are arborists and not all arborists are tree climbers. It’s important for a homeowner to know what to look for when asking someone to come work with trees in their yard. For tree assessment in terms of value, health and risk, a certified arborist is absolutely necessary. The Certified Arborist, according to the International Society of Arborists (ISA) website, is an individual set apart as someone with the commitment, dedication and knowledge to succeed. To earn the ISA Certified Arborist credential, an individual must be trained and knowledgeable in all aspects of arboriculture and adhere to the Code of Ethics that strengthens the credibility and reliability of the workforce. To be eligible for the exam, that individual must have one or both of the following:

• Three or more years of full-time, eligible, practical work experience in arboriculture.

• A degree in the field of arboriculture, horticulture, landscape architecture, or forestry from an regionally accredited educational institute.

Knowing who is being hired will go a long way to insure that your trees are getting the proper care they need. In addition, look for the words “licensed, bonded and insured” if any tree climbing or tree removal is involved.

A certified arborist will perform a basic assessment of a tree’s health using various tools. Viewing the tree from various angles may including the use of a drone and binoculars. The goal is to determine whether or not there is any perceived risk to nearby structures. Tree risk assessment involves a bit more. It will provide more detailed knowledge through observing soil moisture, wind patterns and other environmental factors as well as any defects in the trunk, roots, and crown. Internal wood structure can also be tested. Soil samples and foliage samples can be taken and sent to a lab for analysis.

When does tree climbing occur? Once all the information has been documented and reviewed, the certified arborist will determine what needs to be done. Damaged and dead limbs will need to be removed as well as cross limbs that rub against one another. A tree with two or more trunks may require cabling or a Cobra sling to prevent or mitigate future limb failure. These activities will involve climbing the tree. Whether the certified arborist is the tree climber or whether a licensed, bonded and insured tree service company is called in, this is where proper tree climbing techniques come into play. Obviously, a tree bucket is a wonderful tool but there are times when accessibility to the site is impossible. Instead, a tree climber will have rigging and climbing equipment which may include blocks, pulleys, friction brakes, slings, carabiners, winches, hoists, swivels, carabiners and lots of rope. What shouldn’t be used are climbing spikes, UNLESS the tree is being removed.

Climbing spikes are sharpened steel spikes attached to a climber’s legs using leather straps and padded supports. They make climbing a tree relatively easy and are often used in our area. However, as a homeowner you should be informed that these spikes cause punctures into the tree cambium. Each puncture is a wound which results in a certain amount of tissue death. The damage will vary from tree to tree, but it is damage, nevertheless. Often, visual damage is immediately seen with sap oozing from the wounds. These wounds often lead to extremely destructive diseases including hypoxylon canker and heart rot disease.

There is nothing about climbing spikes that is beneficial to the tree. Unfortunately, my husband, Rog, who is a certified arborist (but not a tree climber), is seeing more and more trees suffering from the above-mentioned diseases. The wounding by climbing spikes is apparent to even the untrained eye. When tree climbing is needed, he recommends one of the few tree service companies that don’t use tree spikes – Forestview Tree Service. There may be others. Rog suggests that one asks the methods used by a tree service before hiring them. After all, unless you are considering tree removal, you will want to hire the very best tree professionals who have your tree’s health as a top priority.