A bygone era of tree work

As with many industries, the field of arboriculture has gone thru many changes over the years.   Many practices that were considered healthy and practical in the past are no longer considered acceptable or safe.  Lots of things were done to trees with the idea that the trees would benefit, but now much evidence has been collected, and in many cases, the facts are in.

Years ago, tree cavities were filled with concrete.  The thought was that the concrete would seal off the hole and provide strength for the tree.  This was a common practice for years.  Now arborists realize that concrete in trees does little good.  Water collects within cracks in the concrete, expanding and contracting, and can interfere with the tree’s ability to grow.  Not to mention that hidden concrete can become a major problem if you hit it with your chainsaw.  As I can attest, this can cause major delays to a job if you end up with a dull chain on your saw.

Pruning paint was used commonly in the past.  Arborists would always cover over their fresh cuts with a tar like paint.  This was supposed to protect the trees from insects and disease.  Well, numerous studies have shown that pruning paint was not needed.  Trees grow over their wounds just fine without.  With this new information in hand, arborists rejoiced, and laid down their pruning paint containers to collect dust in the back of their shops.

Flush cutting branches back evenly to the trunk was considered by many, as a proper cut back in the day.  When handheld chainsaws became readily available, many arborists started to make their cuts flush with the trunk of trees. It was neat and straight looking.   Now there is an enormous amount of information on why this is bad for trees.  Branches should be cut back to the branch collar, not the trunk.  This creates less surface area, and maintains the portion of the tree that is best able to grow over the cut.

Climbing techniques have been made much safer, for both the arborist and the tree.  Climbing spikes were used to prune trees.  This was considered a necessary evil and unfortunately disfigured trees and promoted decay.  Arborists often free -climbed without ropes all the way to the upper reaches of trees.  Some more adventurous climbers would just wrap their legs around a limb when they needed two hands to make a cut with their chain saws.  Today’s arborist has a multitude of climbing ropes, safety lanyards, lightweight climbing saddles, and ascender tools to enter into the tree quickly with less effort.

Early chainsaws were very large and heavy.  These mammoth saws needed two people to operate, one man by the engine holding down the throttle and one man controlling the tip of the saw by holding onto a handle just past the fast revolving sharp edged chain.  If the saw kicked back, or you didn’t hold on properly, serious accidents resulted.  Today chainsaws are lighter, smaller, and more powerful and have many safety features.  Such as anti-kickback chains, and chain brakes to stop the moving chain if your grip slips.

Brush chippers have changed much over the years also.  Brush chippers did not have automatic feed mechanisms.  This meant that you pushed the branch into the machine and it was immediately sucked into the chipper blades at high speed.  You fed the branch and got out the way as quickly as possible as the branch bounced and twisted thru the machine.  These “chuck and duck” style chippers were dangerous and caused arborists many bruises and scratches.  The chippers that are in use in modern days now have feed rollers that will grab the branch and guide it into the blades.  Chippers are also equipped with safety bars that will automatically stop the feed rollers if depressed by the operator.

Technology and safety has certainly advanced through the years. Working with trees today is safer and less fatiguing than ever before.   National standards exist which provide arborists with guidelines on best practices for safety and tree care.  As a third generation arborist, I find it fascinating to think about tree care was done in the past, and how we might be doing it in the future.

August Hoppe

Certified Arborist WI-0477A

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