Who Butchered My Tree?

How would you feel if you returned home from work to find that the beautiful shade trees by the street in front of your house had been drastically pruned? Instead of a thick, symmetrical canopy of leaves, there is a gaping hole through the middle of the tree. This reveals the overhead electrical conductors. “Why did this happen?” you would undoubtedly ask.

You may not be aware that while trees add significantly to the beauty of our communities, they are also responsible for costly property damage and power outages. In fact, tree failure is by far the leading cause of outages nationwide. The tree that grows into electrical conductors presents a potential hazard to the community if it becomes energized or wipes out a power line. Therefore we see utility line clearance contractors in our neighborhoods trimming trees.

Some residents get irritated and feel that these trees are needlessly damaged. “The Tree Care Industry Association receives a lot of calls from homeowners complaining that their utility company ‘drastically’ cut trees near power lines,” says Tchukki Andersen, CTSP, BCMA, and staff arborist for the association.“While utilities are required by law to trim trees, sometimes severely, it is, nevertheless, important for them to follow tree care standards of practice,” adds Robert Rouse, TCIA’s chief program officer. TCIA is the Secretariat for the American National Standards Institute A300 Standard, a national standard that covers tree pruning operations, including line clearance.

“When one is evaluating the quality of line clearance tree trimming, it’s important to consider that the utility’s primary objective is to prevent outages caused by trees as well as electrical hazards,” explains Rouse. Minimally, the tree should be left in a healthy state, with at least some aesthetic value. If this cannot be accomplished, the utility may opt to remove the tree rather than create an eyesore and future problem.

Why the gaping hole in the canopy? First, the utility company specifies a certain amount of clearance around its wires, depending upon the voltage, the tree’s growth rate and other characteristics, and the pruning cycle (how frequently it will be pruned). Furthermore, scientific research has proven that it is better if the trimming crew removes whole limbs with a small number of large cuts. Finally, utilities have found that removal of entire limbs helps to train the future growth of the tree away from the wires, keeping maintenance costs to a minimum while helping to ensure that the tree needn’t receive the same drastic pruning in the future.

What should consumers do?

When you or your utility hire a TCIA member company, you are assured that the company has access to the most recent information on tree care practices. Homeowners who would like a professional arborist to assess their trees should contact a certified tree care specialist.

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