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A Truth About Tree Failure PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
November 2017

Too often cities and builders ignore tree-care standards

I Pix_YourGarden_11-17am happy to say that my house received no damage in Hurricane Irma, and that my garden received minimal damage, most of it superficial.

I did have a couple of taller palms fail. One fell onto the roof just over my office window. There was no damage to the roof, and having the trunk lie in front of the window, blocking flying objects, was of course my objective. If Irma had not been just a measly Category 1 storm, but a 3, 4, or 5, I think all or most of the palms would have been blown onto the roof or at least leaned over, protecting my house.

My power remained off for eight days, and I had no Internet for two weeks. Trees that were too close to the power lines on nearby properties failed completely and brought the power lines to the ground. This, of course, occurred just months after utility pruners worked the area.

One of the sites I visited after Irma was a location where I had previously performed a tree evaluation. I’d noted a tree on a nearby property that was perhaps within ten feet or so of the power lines and maybe 20 feet above the highest power line. It fell onto the power lines, knocking them down -- that was not difficult to predict.

In the weeks after Irma, I was called to inspect tree and palm failures from Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest to Miami Beach and all the way up to Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. One thing became excruciatingly obvious: the vast majority of failures were caused by human failure. Yes, the winds blew those trees over, but why did so many other trees remain standing while these failed?

The photo that accompanies this article is of a large live oak that was previously in good condition, at least before a Public Works project cut the root ball to within two feet of the trunk to repave a foot path. Afterward, there was nothing to hold up the tree during Irma -- and keep in mind, those were just Category 1 winds -- so the tree failed across the roadway, blocking traffic. It took a large front-end loader to push it off the road days later.

Almost every municipality in South Florida seems to have its municipal code peppered with language like “trees and roots must be protected during construction as stated in the ANSI A300 Standards,” set forth by the Tree Care Industry Association, but this is really a fairy tale.

I watched the paving project proceed over time, as I drive by the area a couple of times a week. There were no tree protection zones, heavy equipment was constantly driven over or parked on top of the unprotected root area, and an excessive number of roots were being cut. The failure of this live oak and many other trees was completely predictable.

No matter where you live, when you drive by an active construction site, you can look for these things: Are any tree protection fences installed? Are the root zones being compacted to death, literally? Do you see workers cutting roots with a backhoe? Do you see the canopy of trees being butchered by “landscapers”?

This past year I told a developer that I could no longer work with his company because I was being asked to confirm in writing, as an arborist, that the proposed structures would not be too close to the mature trees that were already there. The developer called me back later with an offer: the firm’s lawyer would indemnify me of all responsibility if I would continue to work for them. I politely said no, thank you. They now have another arborist to plead their case.

Just last week I saw a set of landscape documents showing live oak trees that would be installed beneath power lines. These will likely be approved! Things like this should anger the millions of people who were without power for days.

The power company has published recommendations for the types and species of trees and palms as to how close they can be planted near power lines. Really, where are these being followed?

All those huge tree branches that failed were way too long, way too tall, or had been consistently pruned in an unprofessional manner so that the branches were full of decay. These are manmade issues and should have been previously addressed.

Folks, I think that a vast percentage of tree failures and damage from falling branches and trees in Irma were the result of bad tree-care decisions -- and this was only a Category 1 storm.

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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