This article was taken from the International Society of Arboriculture’s ARBORISTS NEWS.

Arboriculture has been a recognized prefession for nearly 100 years now. Earlier this year, however, a situation occurred in a local county park, and I found it a particularly disturbing event for our profession.

How many other arborists have encountered similar situations — situations that so distinctly underscore just how far we still need to go as professional arborists. As an ISA Certified Arborist for a county in southeastern Pennsylvania, I am responsible for the health and maintenance of all trees on more than 2,000 acres of public parklands.

Recently, a major utility line clearance company was contracted by the local utility provider to clear vegetation beneath and around major transmission lines running through one of our county parks. I met with the line-clearance foreman one morning to review all of the clearing work. I had no problems with the foreman’s pruning and removal plans. I only requested that the climbers not use spikes on trees to prune, in accordance with ANSI standards.

The foreman informed me that his crew did not use throwbags or footlocking, nor did they have a bucket truck; therefore, they HAD to use spikes. The foreman assured me, however, that his crew would use ladders so that the lowest 20 to 30 feet of the trees to be pruned would not be gaffed.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happened next. When I inspected a few of the pruned American sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) after the clearance crew left, I saw that each tree was spiked from the base to top.

“Irate” did not begin to describe my reaction. I immediately phoned the utility company and the national, and then the regional headquarters of the line — clearance company to express my dismay. In this year — 2000 — we know from ANSI standards and from Alex Shigo’s “A New Tree Biology” that “spikes hurt trees; there is no doubt about it…” Good arborists don’t spike trees when pruning them. Spiking to prune is an outmoded practice, as is topping. We’ve known since 1907 that topping is “the work of ignorant tree men,” as stated in John Davey’s “The Tree Doctor.” Good arborists don’t top trees, either. And we’ve known since we were old enough to reason that we shouldn’t make promises that we can’t keep.

Good arborists — and good people — don’t lie. It is time to reawaken a somewhat old-fashioned concept — professional integrity. We as arborists need to uphold our standards, both professional and moral, for the betterment of our industry and our communities.

Not that long ago, in Europe during the 1800s, a forester was as well respected as a doctor or lawyer. Sometime during the past 100 or so years, some of us have lost that integrity. Large donations of money to our industry and large, colorful ads from a national tree care company should not disguise the reality of that company’s field performance.

The reality is our professional integrity has eroded, and now that we have entered the 2000s, it seems like a good time to resurrect the forgotten respect for tree workers by starting with simple honesty. Perhaps 100 years from now, both arborists and the public will consider practices of spiking to prune and topping to be as detrimental as the spraying of DDT.

Steven Booth Park Arborist County of Lancaster, PA Department of Parks and Recreation

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