By its very nature, tree care is a long-term proposition. There are few tree treatments that produce instant cures. It’s often a matter of waiting weeks, months or years before seeing real results. However, some in the tree care business take an even longer view, approaching certain jobs almost from a forestry perspective, where management objectives aren’t measured in terms of years but rather decades. For clients with larger wooded properties, after all, trees are not simply lawn ornaments but a renewable resource.
“Trees are one of the best resources we have, if managed correctly and harvested correctly,” says Scott Redding, certified arborist and owner of Above & Beyond Tree Expert Company in East Aurora, New York.
In addition to more traditional care for individual trees in residential settings, Redding also provides selective harvest logging services for property owners with small stands of trees. “One facet of our business is woodland management,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s for existing clients who have not only a house and surrounding landscape, but [also] 40 acres in back. Sometimes it’s for totally separate clients who just have small woodlots.”
Using his expertise as an arborist, Redding selects which trees should be harvested and which should be left to continue growing. He then works with a reputable logger to carry out the job.
When doing selective harvest logging, typically the goal is to improve the timber stand, says Redding. While many logging jobs look to harvest the best trees, he again takes the long-term approach by marking the worst trees for removal to provide a better growing environment for the better trees.
Usually the best trees are the younger trees that are coming up, and you need to have an understanding of what will help them put growth on,” Redding explains. For example, opening up the canopy around those trees will provide more room for their canopies to grow and, in turn, will help increase the diameter of the trees themselves.
“A lot of times, you’re looking at where the woods are in their development,” he states. “Sometimes it’s mature woods, but oftentimes it’s fields that are regrowing after being opened up for farming in the past.”
With selective harvests, there may be ways to speed that growth process up and help shape what species are favored, he points out. He says he tries to educate the landowners that this long-term approach may mean getting less value from their trees in the short-term, but in the long run can increase the financial value of the trees left on the property.
Another situation where trees need to be viewed as a particularly valuable resource is when clearing lots for development. Many developers want to try to save some mature trees, Redding notes. “They have the right idea, keeping the look and the environment of the woods, but they do it in such a bad way that, invariably, many of those trees end up dying. Then we end up having to remove them,” he observes.
Redding believes that having a trained tree care professional involved from the beginning when clearing lots can lead to much better results. “Whenever there’s a tree on the building site, that’s where people end up leaning all of the tools and materials or piling all the topsoil,” he notes. “One thing I’ve wanted to do is reach out to more contractors and do some education about setting up protection zones around trees.” It doesn’t take a lot — just a little bit of understanding and common sense to give those trees a chance to survive the lot clearing and construction project.
In some cases, Redding says he has to help developers or homebuilders understand that saving select trees during woodlot clearing will require a long-term approach. “Sometimes you can’t get there right away. You need to introduce light slowly to the bark, so you don’t get sun scald; and you have to be sensitive to the pressures of wind, so you have to leave more trees around the one you want to protect and then thin them out slowly over time,” he explains.
Shane Gurney, who operates North Roots Tree & Landscape in Conway, New Hampshire, is another certified arborist who works in the woods in addition to his more standard residential tree care services. Particularly in the winter months, when residential tree work is slower, he works closely with a local forestry and land management company on timber sales (often in the 10-acre and less range) that are larger than what he can do on his own, but still smaller than many logging companies want to be involved with.
“The logging equipment that some companies use is so big now that on smaller jobs they would come in and make a real mess,” Gurney explains. “What we try to do is the more high-quality forestry work rather than just coming in to try to cut everything.”
His skills as an arborist are particularly valuable when difficult trees or those in tight areas — on the edge of a forested area near a barn or alongside a property line, for example — are encountered. “I often get involved when they need someone to climb,” he notes.
In some cases his job is to harvest the tree from the top down to protect surrounding trees that will be left behind; in other cases he carries up and attaches the skidder cable so the tree can be pulled down in the direction desired in order to minimize damage. This type of work requires a client who values their woods as a renewable resource and wants to be sure that high-quality work is done to protect that resource, says Gurney.
He acknowledges that this type of tree work isn’t common in every part of the country. “I moved to northern New Hampshire from Fairfield County, Connecticut. Down there it was all residential work; up here it’s a completely different business. There are niches where you can do some work in the woods. And, there are mills around here, so there’s a market for logs,” he explains.
High Rise Tree Care in New Castle, Colorado, does a lot of land management work in addition to its tree care services. This includes clearing land for construction as well as for fire mitigation, conservation and other purposes. This results in a lot of wood generated, “but none of it goes to the dump,” stresses owner Scott Daniels.
The company operates its own mill to ensure that the best quality logs are used in the best way. Daniels says that, depending on the quality of the wood, there can be more money in the milled lumber than in the fee charged for taking a tree down. “Particularly if we get a nice maple or ash. We have a portable mill, so we can’t compete with the big mills in terms of production, but we do a lot of custom milling for builders,” he says.
Not only is there more financial reward in milling the lumber than there is in firewood (which the company also produces), but there’s a better feeling of creating a lasting resource from the tree. “You really do have a product that you can use and that’s lasting,” says Daniels, noting that entire houses, including flooring, have been built from trees the company has cleared and milled. In fact, High Rise Tree Care even builds and sells log cabins using the wood generated from its tree removal and land clearing jobs.
The company completes the renewable resource cycle by planting trees on many of the sites it has cleared. When undesirable trees have been removed, they are replaced by more desirable species. “A lot of people think that once you clear a site, that’s it. But there’s more to it than that,” says Daniels. “You need to install new plants or you’ll get erosion. You really have to look at the whole picture: what you want to start with and what you want to end with.”
When planting new trees on cleared land, he picks species well suited to the site, and makes sure that water is available to assure their long-term survival. He says it’s also important to take steps to ensure that the trees that were removed (often scrub oak in that area) don’t resprout and take over the site.
Finally, he says, when planting new trees on open land, the goal should be to ensure their long-term success. “A lot of people, when they do plantings in a clearing, will plant their trees in a row, because they want the view screened. But after those trees grow for five or six years they’re too crowded and some of them have to be cut out,” Daniels explains. Instead, he plants trees offset from each other in a zigzag formation so there’s plenty of room for each tree to grow so they’ll “be around for a long time to come.”
Daniels cites one recent project that High Rise Tree Care completed as an example of taking a big picture approach to managing land and trees. “We cleaned a whole riverbank up that had been overgrown and fisherman couldn’t get in there to fish,” he explains. “We went in and cut the choke cherries out and trimmed everything up and left some select small pine trees there; now they’ll have a chance to grow.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue and has been updated.