How ProArbor Handled Bur Oak Tree Removal Challenge
We recently finished up a tree removal job that was very typical. Specifically it was a tree that had root damage due to French drains and new construction within the last 5 years. The client had some drainage problems over the past 5-6 years, and had to put in a French drain. In the process, they had to cut multiple support roots for the tree, and that destroyed probably 30-40% of the root zone of the tree. So, having its roots cut, the tree fell into rapid decline, and the whole top died.
This was a bur oak. It’s an indigenous species, but somewhat rare in the Mid-Atlantic region now. It used to be prolific when there were natural forests here, but it is a tree that’s becoming more and more rare. Not rare on an endangered species list, just more rare in this area because of all the deforestation and development that’s happened. It was a very mature, beautiful specimen. There are quite a few of these mature specimens can be seen down in D.C. in Meridian Hill Park, if anyone is ever interested in seeing a collection of them. It’s part of the National Park System. Really nice trees.
The tree was approximately 85 feet in height, 50 foot diameter crown on top, with a trunk of about 35 inch diameter. It was a very large tree in a small, expertly landscaped backyard, and we had to extricate it in a manner that would provide security for the homeowner and no damage to their yard.
We had a crew of 3 men who arrived with a chipper and all of our chain saws and equipment. On each job, of course, we wear the proper PPE, which stands for Personal Protective Equipment. It includes hard hat, safety glasses, work boots, chaps for cutting with chain saws to protect your pants, and ear protection. We set up our safety zone first and then set up our work zone, to make sure everything was safe.
The work zone itself is exactly where the tree is, and the safety zone is a perimeter beyond that. So, if it’s a property that we’re working in the backyard, the work zone will be in the backyard directly underneath the tree, or within 30% of the tree’s canopy.
When we park our truck out on the street, we chalk it and make sure that it’s coned off properly to maintain all of VDOT standards and federal traffic and safety regulations. That’s our safety zone. It starts out at the truck out on the street. If we have to block off sidewalks or driveways, we use safety caution tape along with our cones and signs.
The whole property becomes a safety zone. Essentially we’re looking at safety, quality, and production, in that order. The reason to provide a safe work zone is to establish an atmosphere of safety. We get the job done with quality and within our level of production. That’s what we’re looking at: safety, quality, and production.
This client had previously opted for what was readily available and most widely used, which was just cutting the roots and tunneling, digging down with a trencher or a backhoe or something like that. Consequently, over the period of the last 4 or 5 years, the tree died back. With probably 30-40 large limbs on the tree, only 3 still lived, so it was time to take it down.
We had to lower each limb using a system of block and tackle. We use what are called arborist pulleys to lower each piece out in a controlled fashion, using a device at the base of the tree to control the speed at which the branch comes down.
The removal gave us quite a few challenges. Probably 60% of the top of the tree had been dead for more than a year, and dead wood becomes brittle after 5 or 6 months. Our challenge was to rope it out without shattering the wood.
Each piece had to be lowered out precisely so that it didn't slam and shatter, and then project pieces through the homeowner’s or neighbor’s windows. In addition, we had about $20,000-$30,000 worth of landscape, hardscapes and plantings right underneath the tree in which we were operating. Stone patios, perennial beds and shrubs had been installed underneath the dead tree.
We did recommend removing the tree over a year ago. But, clients that have a green thumb really get attached to their trees. I can certainly understand they would love to prolong the life of this tree. It was a beautiful specimen at one time, and it was a perfectly shaped tree. They were not our clients when they did the excavation. Had they been, we might have recommended rerouting that French drain system. There’s enough backyard where they probably could have split the yard in half and run the French drains through the middle of the yard, rather than as close to the tree as they did.
The tree might have been saved. It’s quite possible. But, when you cut into the tree’s root system, essentially you’re doing open heart surgery and cutting through major arteries, and depleting the tree of its sustainability.
We had to rope out each limb until we got down to what would looked like a naked trunk of 65 feet. It took all day just to extricate the limbs and get them out to the street and into the chipper and chipped up. So, we spent a whole day just doing that process without damaging the yard, and they have a beautiful backyard with absolutely gorgeous verdant turf. It is like something you would see on a golf course. We had to be very careful, even dragging our brush so it would not rip up the turf.
A lot of our clients' yards have beautiful landscaping. We have very selective clientele, and we love working in their yards.
We had to get back up in the tree and, with the same type of rope and pulley system, lower down large chunks. The chunks were anywhere between 500-1000 pound chunks that had to come out one at a time.
Then, when we had about a 30 foot spar...it’s called a spar where the trunk is just standing by itself...we put a rope on that. We have a mechanical device that we attach to the base of another tree, get about 1000 pounds of pull on it, then notch and drop the tree on to the backyard. But, it’s not just onto the backyard, we put all of our mats out. We have these alternamats which are ground protective polymer mats. They’re 4x8, 3x8 sized mats with which we build a platform. Essentially, it look like a runway that a plane would use on an airstrip.
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