Arborists work outside, in the trees, amongst nature. Not often do arborists find themselves working in a place like a courtroom.

However, this is exactly where New Mexico arborist Kevin Eckert found himself Oct. 6—using his expertise to provide testimony in a civil court case.

Eckert—an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist and industry consultant—found himself testifying in a case involving an electric cooperative that wasn’t following industry standards. It seems the co-op failed to ensure the area along one of its power lines was clear of potentially hazardous vegetation, and an aspen tree fell and sparked one of the largest wildfires in New Mexico’s recorded history. Eckert’s testimony came in a civil case in which the jury will determine whether the co-op and the generation and transmission company that supplies it with power should be held liable for the 2011 Las Conchas (New Mexico) fire. Attorneys for more than 300 plaintiffs have argued that negligence by the two companies is to blame, according to the Associated Press.

Eckert, who spent years developing vegetation-management programs for various utilities, said there was no indication from the documents that the co-op had trained inspectors or a written policy. The tree also showed signs of being affected by a wood-rotting fungus, Eckert added.

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