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Pre-work Tree Risk Assessment Part II...

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of ARBORIST NEWS, a publication of International Society of Arboriculture ( This content is reprinted with full permission of the publisher.

In the last Simply Safe article on tree risk assessment (August 2017, pp. 64–65), I discussed the similarities between conducting a thorough, systematic, pre-trip vehicle inspection, and conducting a pre-work tree risk assessment. The conversation focused on how following a systematic process while performing a pre-work tree risk assessment reduces the likelihood of missing critical points of concern. This follow-up article emphasizes the importance of correctly identifying decay fungi, whenever possible, as part of the pre-work tree risk assessment.

Polyporus squamosus fruiting structures.

There are levels of priority in the inspection process, often based on likelihood and consequences. During a pre-trip vehicle inspection, for example, although we may check the tire pressure and the tread depth, we likely place a higher priority on checking the seatbelt, the steering linkage, and making sure the brakes are working. Now, the consequences of having a tire with low pressure or shallow tread depth are significant, but those consequences are likely lower in severity than the consequences of possessing a faulty seat belt, steering linkage, or brakes.

A systematic tree risk assessment is very similar. In an assessment, one inspects the whole tree, but the likelihood and/or consequences of failure for a trunk with a significant defect may be higher than the likelihood/consequences of a wrist-sized limb with a similar defect in the outer canopy. For this reason, after observing the tree from a distance for obvious points of concern, it is good to inspect the tree parts that could contribute to whole-tree failure and severe consequences, if they should fail.

One of the biggest concerns regarding root health (and associated tree stability) is decay. You can use a blunt-tip probe while inspecting the trunk flare to check for symptoms, such as soft, decayed roots just below the soil surface. You can start by inspecting the area around the trunk. This will give you an idea of how sound the roots are and help you determine if they are buried under backfill.

You should also look for signs of decay fungi, but be aware that the visible signs of some important decay fungi are not present yearlong. The most common indicators of fungi are fruiting structures, commonly referred to as mushrooms, conks, and brackets. Visible fruiting structures are typically only a small part of the whole fungal organism that is decaying the wood. A simple way to visualize this is to think about the flowers of a tree; the flowers are a reproductive structure, just as the conks, mushrooms, and brackets are the reproductive structures of fungi.

Identifying fungi from visible fruiting structures can be difficult. Some fungi, such as Ganoderma applanatum, have perennial fruiting structures that are visible throughout the year, even when the fungi is dormant. Many fungi, however, have fruiting structures that are present for only a short period before drying up and subsequently degrading. Fungal fruiting structures can be useful to positively identify fungi, but the chance of conducting your tree risk assessment when the fruiting structures are present and identifiable may be relatively low.

Being able to identify fungal fruiting structures is an important skill. And while most qualified arborists are good at identifying common species of trees in their area, there are fewer arborists who are able to identify the key decay fungi affecting those trees.

You can use a blunt-tip probe to check for symptoms of decay, such as soft, decayed roots just below the soil surface.

Arborists should be knowledgeable of how fungi decay wood. Some species are more aggressive than others and will degrade the structural integrity of the tree faster. If you are speaking with a client who says, “I’ve seen that same mushroom on that tree trunk for several years,” then your response will likely be different for a less-aggressive white rot species (e.g., Polyporus squamosus), than if the fruiting structure were an aggressive brown rot species (e.g., Laetiporus sulphureus). Brown rot and white rot fungi significantly change the characteristics of the wood in different ways. Doing your research and knowing the facts—knowing those characteristics—will help you better determine how to safely work on the tree.

Performing a pre-work risk assessment on every tree one works on is essential, regardless of whether that tree will being climbed, accessed from an aerial lift, or worked on from the ground. Follow a systematic process that you can easily repeat on every tree you assess. This will ensure your assessment becomes routine, and will reduce the likelihood of missing a step or an important piece of information about the structural integrity of the tree. Learning more about wood decay fungi identification, and about how decay fungi affects the trees on which you work, are similarly essential components of guaranteeing a safe worksite.

Next Steps: Guide your crew in performing a pre-work tree risk assessment. Start with the roots and the trunk, then move up the tree to the main limbs in the inner canopy, and then on to the smaller branches in the outer canopy. Take particular care when looking at the root system. Bring a blunt-tip probe and encourage your crew to practice checking for soft or decayed roots.

Don Roppolo is a manager of Arboricultural Training with The Davey Tree Expert Company. He is an ISA Certified Arborist (#IL-1393ATL).


October Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Arnold ...

Arnold Brodbeck, PhD, TrusteeTREE Fund is happy to shine the spotlight this month on Beau Brodbeck, PhD. Beau started his involvement with TREE Fund as the Liaison for Southern Chapter ISA and quickly stepped up to chair the Liaison Committee and join the Board of Trustees. TREE Fund webinars were Beau’s brainchild; he introduced us to the Extension community and helped establish and grow the program. In addition to all that, Beau still finds time to participate in our Research and Education Committee that reviews grant applications, and to ride the Tour. We are grateful for all you do, Beau!


To suggest someone for the Spotlight, please contact Karen Lindell.

October 2017 news from TREE Fund...

Read the latest edition of our monthly TREE Fund Bulletin.

Pre-work Tree Risk Assessment...

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of ARBORIST NEWS, a publication of International Society of Arboriculture ( This content is reprinted with full permission of the publisher.


Keep your eyes open! If we are aware of problems with our equipment before we get on the road, then we can better our chances of properly addressing those problems.

Risk is present in just about everything we do—even something as basic as driving a truck (depending on how you go about it). How we approach the task of driving greatly affects the amount of risk we expose ourselves to. In other words, what we do before we turn the key in the ignition can increase or decrease our exposure to risk and impact our likelihood of having an incident.

As professionals, we know that being systematic and thorough with pre-trip vehicle inspections reduces our chance of missing something. If we are aware of problems with our equipment before we get on the road, then we can better our chances of properly addressing those problems.

Just as we need to conduct a thorough and systematic pre-trip inspection before we hop in the truck, we also need to do a thorough and systematic pre-work tree and site assessment to reduce our exposure to risk on the work site. If done the same way each time, your pre-work and site assessment can become a habit—a good habit. Never underestimate the value of a habitual process that reduces the likelihood of forgetting or missing something.

Evaluating the tree twice adds another level of safety before someone works on the tree. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. But hard work and patience can reduce those mistakes: assess the tree first to create an estimate or to develop a work order, then assess it again when the crew goes out to do the actual work.

The tree risk assessment we do before we send out a crew can set them up for success or failure, from a safety standpoint as well as an expense standpoint. Have you ever been involved in a job in which the initial assessment was more of a drive-by look, from one perspective, which you later found out had missed a significant concern? Hypothetically speaking, if a more thorough assessment was within the range of possibility, you might have considered enlisting different people with the appropriate skills and equipment (e.g., aerial lift, crane). The question then becomes, does the crew decide not to do the job and to come back another day with the appropriate equipment and personnel, or does the crew attempt to complete the job with what they have to avoid the additional, unplanned expenses?

Evaluating the tree twice adds another level of safety before someone works on the tree. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. But hard work and patience can reduce those mistakes.

A thorough tree risk assessment can help us avoid putting our crews in this very predicament. It is easy to not do a thorough tree assessment, thinking that the tree looks good from a distance and assuming the crew is going to look at it closer before they work on it. But the assessment needs to be the same, regardless of whether we are climbing the tree or planning to work using an aerial lift. For example, if a tree or tree part fails while we are using an aerial lift, there is a high risk of that part hitting the lift. We cannot operate under a false sense of security. We must not assume we do not need to conduct a thorough risk assessment because we are not tied to the tree.

Returning to our truck analogy—as one approaches a truck to do a pre-trip inspection, one looks for major signs of concern (e.g., oil on the ground, flat tires). We should approach trees and the sites we work on with the same big-picture observation, looking for and identifying obvious signs of concern. On a work site, we should be looking for power lines, signs of recent site disturbance (e.g., new sidewalks, curbs, or driveways), changes in grade, or vehicle traffic.

Following an overview of the work site, we should look for major signs of concern as we approach the tree(s) we plan to work on. Things that are easier to spot on approach include tip dieback, sparse canopy foliage, or excessive sprouts along major branches. Be aware that this may indicate root problems and consequently a loss of structural stability. Know the signs of poor or weak branch attachment, like codominant stems or narrowly angled branch unions. Develop a keen eye for dead or broken limbs, large cavities or cankers, or the absence of a visible trunk flare at the ground line. If there is no trunk flare, then there is a good chance the site has seen a change in grade, potentially causing damage to the root system and a loss of structural integrity.

In the case of a thorough, pre-trip assessment of a work truck, a close-up inspection of all the critical parts of the vehicle will be necessary—lifting the hood to check the engine, checking brakes, taking a look at the suspension. The same goes for us arborists as we get closer to the tree we plan to work on—the closer we get, the more critical we should be of the tree’s canopy, branches, and trunk. Having a pair of binoculars handy is very useful to get a better view of things that are difficult to see from the ground. On this closer inspection, we are typically able to identify smaller or less obvious defects that we could not see from a distance. Things like cracks, loose bark, or fungal fruiting bodies let us know there is dead tissue, and we should explore further to see how extensive the dieback and decay really is. Looking down at the base of the trunk, we can search for girdling roots, or heaving soil or root plates, among other concerns. We should use a mallet to sound every tree we work on to help identify cavities.

A process like the ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) is one method for helping arborists keep to the same, thorough process to reduce the likelihood of missing something. Some professionals prefer to customize their own process (or forms) to better fit their personnel and work requirements. Some document their assessment with a pen and paper, while others prefer to do everything electronically. Still others carry out the assessment but choose only to document significant concerns. Regardless of the method, the key is to follow a thorough, systematic process that is the same with each use. It may take some time and purposeful action to make your chosen process part of your routine. Be patient and persistent!


Don Roppolo is a manager of Arboricultural Training with The Davey Tree Expert Company. He is an ISA Certified Arborist (#IL-1393ATL).

Melissa LeVangie: Millard F. Blair Excep...

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of ARBORIST NEWS, a publication of International Society of Arboriculture ( This content is reprinted with full permission of the publisher.


Melissa LeVangie’s devotion to arboriculture now spans two decades; her work as a climber and consultant, as well as her role as an influential instructor and friend, lives and breathes a passion for trees.

Last year, she was awarded the Millard F. Blair Exceptional Contribution to Practical Arboriculture Award for her discernment, and for her boundless capacity to encourage others to become better listeners and better learners if they wish to become better arborists. LeVangie is a strong believer in maintaining a community of friends who are enthusiastic, empowered, and ready to make a difference. She is warmly acknowledged by her peers for her role as a co-founder and driving force behind the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop.

Unfailingly, LeVangie is solid. Lauded for her energy and her confidence, and respected for her emotion and her diligence, LeVangie has a passion for safe and effective tree care practices that hits you at your core. She has worked as a practicing arborist for many years, providing consulting-arborist services throughout central Massachusetts, U.S., while also currently working as the director of marketing and sales for Shelter Tree, Inc., a Massachusetts-based gear-supply company.

She is deeply connected to the ISA New England Chapter and the Massachusetts Tree Wardens and Foresters Association, among other local and regional efforts. As the tree warden for Petersham, Massachusetts, U.S., she doubled the town budget for tree care in two short years and did wonders for raising the profile and importance of arboriculture among municipal leaders and landowners alike.

LeVangie’s knowledge is something to behold. She has been instrumental in building and sustaining a national network of women who work in and around trees. The Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop, since its initial launch in 2009, is proof positive of the value and impact of smart, dedicated, and personalized instruction. The workshop’s ongoing success, by extension, is further evidence of LeVangie’s knack for inspiring others.

The Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop brings together women of multiple levels of climbing experience (no-skill to high-skill), from across the country, to engage, to network, and to breathe in the wonders of tree climbing.

From setting up climbing lines using throwlines and friction saving devices, to securing various knots to facilitate different climbing systems, to understanding how to move safely and comfortably throughout the canopy using a lanyard . . . The workshop is a two-to-three–day learning exchange, crafted to maximize the strengths and intelligence of each attendee, providing women with the opportunity to climb in a safe, supportive, and informative environment.

The workshop allows an individual’s hard work to speak for itself, but as many past participants eagerly note, the event’s success hinges greatly on integrating a celebration of community, professional education, and personal responsibility.

LeVangie has inspired numerous women to excel in arboriculture as professionals. The Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop has instilled in many a renewed excitement for their career or individual goals—facets of personal development that go much deeper than the average reservoir reserved for technical competency or gear familiarity. Tree care is a complex industry, and opportunities for women of all abilities to network and grow their careers are sparse. LeVangie knows that any opportunity to hold open the door for individuals whom are new to arboriculture is absolutely essential.



Saluting Branches Continues to Grow and ...

by Brandon Gallagher Watson

Saluting Branches began as a national service project conceived by TCIA Member, Rainbow Treecare, in 2013 with the first event taking place in 2015. Working in partnership with the US Department of Veteran Affairs National Cemetery Administration (VA), the inaugural event was held at 27 local and national cemeteries. At the time, the VA thought the project sounded great but suggested it begin with no more than 5 – 10 sites as pulling off a successful event at two dozen locations was a big task for a volunteer organization. They were amazed when over 1,000 arborists showed up that first year and established Saluting Branches as one of the most successful charitable service days that benefits the VA every year. From those original 27 sites, the project has grown to include 45 veteran memorial cemeteries across 38 States in just its third year.

The Third Annual Saluting Branches: Arborists United for Veteran Remembrance is set to take place on September 20th, 2017 and, with an estimated 2,000 volunteers, it will be one of the largest service events in our industry’s history. “As an arborist it is an honor to participate in this collaborative event. To give one day to honor those who gave their life so that we can enjoy a rewarding career is the least that any of us can do. As we increase our knowledge of what trees actually do for us as humans the role of the arborist becomes increasingly important, but never more important than the role those who defended our freedom. After all with out their sacrifice, none of what we do would be the same.” This quote comes from Joe Shaw, an arborist with The Davey Tree Expert Co. but it could have come from any of the thousands of volunteers who have taken part in this meaningful event.

While the project started with the intention of providing professional arborist services at national cemeteries, the scope of the project has expanded to “honor American service men and women by organizing volunteer tree and landscape care for the land and property dedicated to our veterans.” This larger vision allows for volunteers with landscaping and turf science backgrounds. It also allows for growth into other memorial sites such as veteran monuments, state veteran cemeteries, or and even sites dedicated to US Military personnel beyond the borders of the United States. In 2016, Saluting Branches had its first day of service at the Mexico City National Cemetery, a site established in 1851 to inter the remains of US soldiers lost during the Mexican-American War.

The growth of the project is the result of individual arborists stepping up to take on a veteran site nearby and meaningful to them. New sites for 2017, including cemeteries in Utah, Montana, Michigan, Arkansas, and south Florida, have all been added because an arborist contacted Saluting Branches through the website or Facebook and requested more information on how to get this started in their community. Many of those who reach out end up becoming Site Leader. Site Leaders play a pivotal role in making the day of service a success for our industry. They coordinate and manage the work, equipment and people at a designated cemetery. Saluting Branches would truly not be possible without these folks taking a leadership role in make this happen on the ground.

Saluting Branches, as a non-profit association, continues to grow as well. While it started as a community service project within Rainbow Treecare, Saluting Branches is now established as its own 501(c)(3) charitable organization. This allows for financial support from sponsors and partners to be tax-deductible donations and sets the groundwork for the future expansion the project into its own self-sustaining charity. Within this, a Board of Directors has been established and was proud to welcome Paul Sellers, a system forester with NSTAR Energy. Paul is the first non-Rainbow Treecare Board member and will help guide the organization over his two-year term.

Sponsorships, both from individuals and companies, are integral to the support of the project. With 45 veteran properties eager to participate, support from industry leaders including Rainbow Treecare, ACRT, Inc., The Davey Tree Expert Company, STIHL®, and Petzl®, make it possible to expand the experience and grow the reach. The financial contributions cover meals for the thousands of volunteers, helping with administration and marketing costs, and allowing for volunteer appreciation gifts. Additional sponsor partners include Arborwear, Teufelberger, SavaTree, Guardair, AirSpade Division, Jarraff Industries, RDO, Banditt, Anderberg Printing, ArborMAX, At Height, Teupen Lifts, Tree Stuff, TCIA, ISA, and UAA.

While it is easy to get caught up in the planning, organizing, and logistics of the event, no Saluting Branches volunteer ever losses sight of why we are here and the contribution this Day of Service provides. “Our ability to contribute to the upkeep and beauty of these sites is a small token of appreciation for which I am deeply touched and honored to be a part of,” says Matt Bartelme from TCIA member company, Barts Tree Service. “The 2015 inaugural event was a great opportunity for our organization to give back to our fallen heroes and help to show them the respect that they deserve. Our company is honored to be of service again this year and and we look forward to another fantastic event,” reflected Daniel Reposh from Homer Tree in Illinois. Ask anyone who has participated in Saluting Branches and you’ll find arborists who are dedicated using their skills to make these sacred sites safer and more beautiful for all who visit.

For more information on Saluting Branches and to find a site near you, please visit

Leading Thoughts...

by J. Eric Smith, TREE Fund President and CEO

My 5:30 a.m. walks across the Chicago Loop to Union Station have been getting increasingly brisk and dark of late, even as the first hints of color are appearing among the leaves around TREE Fund’s office in Naperville, Illinois. As it often does, the imminent arrival of autumn gets me to thinking about change, and what it will bring, and how it will be managed. I suspect I am not alone in that seasonal reflection.

It occurs to me that those of us who work in the tree care and related green industries are, at bottom line, managing the process of change. Sometimes that change is slow and predictable: we work with developers and landscape architects to create new green spaces according to plans, we help homeowners and businesses manage their growing and aging green stock, and we formulate the inevitable end of life plans that come when over-mature trees begin to fail, creating safety risks.

Sometimes, of course, change comes at us more quickly and profoundly than we would like, as our colleagues responding to hurricane and wildfire damage this month all too clearly understand. Beneath all of those slow and fast changes, though, one thing needs to remain constant: a shared commitment to rigorous, scientific research as the cornerstone upon which we build our plans, actions, and responses, to safely ensure and protect life, property and the environment.

TREE Fund is changing too. We are rolling out new grant lines on an almost annual basis, shifting emphasis toward endowment building in lieu of event-based fundraising, and embracing “friendraising” and community engagement as fundamental components of our mission, so that we may open the circle to new philanthropic partners. And the constant cornerstone that makes all of that possible, of course, is the faithful support of so many individuals and organizations who believe in and empower our efforts.

TREE Fund celebrated its 15th anniversary of working on your behalf in July 2017. Between now and December, we will be rolling out a 15th Anniversary Operating Appeal, and I am hopeful that you will continue to empower us as positive change agents by supporting it. It is your belief in our work that makes it so rewarding, and upon which our commitment to your safety and success remains – and that is one thing that will never change.

September 2017 news from TREE Fund...

Read the latest edition of our monthly TREE Fund Bulletin.

Asplundh Tree Expert Co. Elects Scott M....


Willow Grove, PA –The board of the Asplundh Tree Expert Co., the nation’s largest utility vegetation management company, has elected Scott M. Asplundh to the position of chairman of the board and chief executive officer (CEO). With 37 years of experience in field operations and corporate management, he represents the highest level of leadership within the third generation family members who now manage this international corporation based in the Philadelphia area.

Although Scott Asplundh has already served as the CEO for seven years, the board chose to add the responsibilities of board chairman since the health of former Chairman Christopher B. Asplundh, Sr. was declining in July. He passed away peacefully at his home in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania on August 10, 2017 at the age of 77.
In the months before his passing, Chris Asplundh, Sr. expressed his confidence in the leadership experience that Scott has attained through his many years of meeting challenges and building successes for the company. Founded in 1928 by three brothers, the Asplundh Tree Expert Co. is a family-owned and managed corporation that primarily performs utility vegetation management, but also provides a variety of services for utility infrastructure. The corporation and its subsidiaries employ over 35,000 men and women throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr. Asplundh joined the company full-time in 1980 after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from St. Lawrence University in New York. He went on to earn an MBA from Pennsylvania State University in 1982. Although he had worked part-time since 1976 on various tree crews as a college student, Mr. Asplundh spent the next several years gaining more field experience with assignments in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois. In late 1987, after two years as a field manager of Asplundh operations in Missouri and eastern Kansas, he was elected vice president and returned to the corporate headquarters in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

As the company expanded and diversified in the 1990s, Mr. Asplundh took on oversight responsibility for several field management regions in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, as well as subsidiary operations in utility construction and underground locating. In January 2001, he was elected president of the company and in September 2010, the board of directors elected him CEO.

Mr. Asplundh is a member of various industry organizations including the International Society of Arboriculture, the Utility Arborist Association and the Tree Care Industry Association and is an active participant in Edison Electric Institute conferences. He currently serves as the chairman of the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Strategic Partnership in conjunction with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which focuses on reducing fatalities and injuries for employees who work near or on power lines. He is a leader in implementing telematics for the corporation’s equipment fleet and in 2013, he earned Penn State University’s Smeal Graduate Distinguished Achievement Award.

Residing in Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania, Mr. Asplundh and his wife of 37 years, Hali, are the parents of two adult children, Madeleine and Jared.
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Ohio University Seeking Graduate Student...

One of our TREE Fund researchers asked us to pass this along:


We are looking for a capable student to join our Forest Ecology research group at the Masters or PhD level beginning in January 2018.  Our research broadly considers the structure and dynamics of forest communities in human-shaped ecosystems.  The incoming student will participate in a study examining the role of street and roadside trees in shaping the urban microclimate and the long-term effects of trees on pavement condition.  In addition to research commitments, the student will take courses and occasionally serve as teaching assistant in the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology.  The position is fully funded including tuition waivers.

Applicants should have a GPA of at least 3.4 and GRE scores above the 65th percentile.  A strong work ethic, quantitative skills, and the ability work independently are essential.  Applicants should be physically fit and capable of field work in less-than-ideal conditions.  Previous field experience is desirable.

The Department of Environmental and Plant Biology ( ) is a community of mutually supportive faculty and students at Ohio University.  The University is situated in the small city of Athens, nestled in the forested hills of the Allegheny Plateau.  Application procedures are described at

If you are interested please contact Glenn Matlack at  See his web page at .

Need funding? You have come to the right place.

Applications for competitive research grants, the Ohio Chapter ISA Education Grant Program, and all scholarships open Jan. 15.

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