A Tricky Tree Removal
By Micah Pace
ISA Certified Arborist TX-3752
Professional Urban Forester
Qualified Tree Risk Assessor
There are many individuals far more qualified and experienced than I to offer such information, though I did used to work in the woods in north central Maine…just saying. In all seriousness, though, tree removal work is some of the most dangerous work around and requires a safe and serious approach. There are professional training courses that teach proper safety and technique. If you plan to remove trees as a main part of your business, I encourage you to attend a professional training seminar to learn more about proper tree removal and felling…your crews, your clients, and your clients’ neighbors will thank you.
Tree removal in the urban and suburban environment can be a challenging task, one that requires in depth knowledge and experience with the techniques of tree felling and the use of climbing ropes and equipment. Safe tree removal requires an understanding of tree bio-mechanics, species-specific differences in wood density (i.e. weight)and strength, the potential for wood decay resistance (i.e. CODIT), and perhaps more important than anything…knowing one’s own limits.
Some tree removal jobs can be very simple. Felling a tree in a large open area, such as a park, would be an example of a basic tree removal that can often be accomplished right from the ground making a front notch cut(s), creating a hinge, and making a final back cut (i.e. removal cut), allowing the tree to fall in a pre-identified direction void of any conflicts. Proper felling techniques regarding hinge width (~10% of trunk diameter) and length (~80% of trunk diameter), the angle of the notch cuts, the proper use of wedges (if needed), and the proper planning for a minimum of two retreat routes established at 45-degree angles from the trunk (i.e. emergency exits) are all part of the
methodology a tree care professional should possess and practice if they intend to remove trees safely. A good tree feller can drop a large tree onto a small ground marker a tree-length away every time.
Removing trees within close proximity to structures, such as houses and buildings, typically requires well-developed climbing and rope skills in order to section the tree piece by piece and safely lower the cut material to the ground. This is the work that we as arborists and urban foresters deal with most often. However, there are times when even the best climbing and rope skills alone are not enough to safely remove an urban tree. In these cases, more specialized equipment such as a crane is necessary to assist in the removal process.
Assessing the home and trees.
The prospective client indicated that his usual “arborist” told him he needed to call more advanced professionals for this job, which leads us to lesson number #1 – Know your own limits!
Thirty-five years ago, this well-intentioned resident designed and built his home around three trees – 1 bois d’ arc (yellow arrow) and 2 cedar elms (1 in the center of house (red arrows) and 1 in back patio on right (blue arrow))…prized specimen no doubt, but again, he was well-intentioned after all.
Inside the custom home were two rooms approximately 6-feet by 8-feet with windows and doors accessible from inside the house, and whose ceilings were open to the sky. In one room grew a 38-inch diameter cedar elm. In the other room, a 28-inch diameter bois d’ arc stretched to the sky out of the roof. Complicating an already difficult situation was the fact that the large cedar elm had a four-foot long vertical crack in its trunk as well as a large (12”) cavity on the back right side. The trunk was also resting on the edge of the roof at the top of the room 15-feet up.
The third tree was outside the home, near the kitchen. However, it too was growing directly along the side of the house. With two large diameter trunks protruding up through the roof itself, and with all three less than a foot from the walls of the house, this would be no simple removal job.
Age, limited root systems, construction stress, and countless storms over a 35-year period have resulted in the decline of both the safety and functional value of the trees. The need for their removal was evident, but their relatively large sizes, the unique design of their growing space, and their close proximity to the house would require the use of a crane to safely lift and carry the cut material up through the roof and away from the house.
Planning the Removal
Following an on-site meeting with a professional crane contractor, it was determined that a 115-ton crane would be used to handle the individual cuts. The site was also assessed for logistical considerations such as placement of equipment (e.g. crane, trucks, chipper, trailer and front end loader) and material, as well as any potential hazards to the crew. A communication plan was also established to inform all the residents on the street of the pending work so they could plan accordingly for the temporary inconvenience on the day of service.
Performing the job
The day of the job arrived and all the pieces were set in place to perform the challenging removals. A pre-job safety meeting was held, including the crane operator and his signal caller, to insure everyone
was clear on the goals and steps for a safe job. I cannot stress enough how important good communication is on jobs with this high level of difficulty.
We began with the large cedar elm in the center of the home. The tree’s canopy was sectioned out making the pre-selected picks accounting for weight and balance. The material was then lifted and placed in the street next to the chipper where crew members were ready to cut and chip the small diameter material. Large diameter branch and trunk material were lifted and placed onto the trailer directly by the crane or by the using the front end loader. This process was continued for each of the three trees.
The trunks represented the most difficult portion of the work since there was, quite literally, very little room for error while lifting the material up through the small rooms. I am proud to say that everyone worked safely and completed the project with no conflicts with the client’s property and no injuries. The trunks were securely tied-off and lifted very slowly while the signal caller, using a 2-way radio from inside the interior rooms, communicated directional commands to the crane operator outside in the front of the house.
One-by-one and piece-by-piece the large tree trunks were sectioned and safely lifted up and away from the house. The stumps were cut to as low to the ground as possible, with the exception of the tree outside. I guess the owner was just not quite ready to let go completely. They asked to leave a two-foot stump just outside their kitchen window.
Posted: February 24, 2016