As you are raking up those fallen leaves and your mind drifts back to the summer gone by, hold that chin up! Look up at those trees. Although trees provide significant benefits, trees are destined to fail.
Remember, trees are living, growing and dying things. Just like a person, trees are formed and shaped by the environment in which they live. When a tree fails and damages property or causes injury, the tree becomes a liability. Recognizing tree hazards and taking corrective actions will make your property safer and also helps prolong the lives of trees.
A hazard tree has structural defects making it likely to fail, in whole or in part, and which could strike a target. A target could be your house, car, street, bench, power line, etc. A tree can be full of structural defects, but without a target there is no hazard.
Here’s what to look for:
Dead wood is “non-negotiable.” Dead trees or large dead branches can fall at any time. Dead wood is dry and brittle; it doesn’t bend like living wood. “Hangers” or “widow makers” — dead branches and treetops that have already broken off but remain in the tree — are especially dangerous and should be removed.
Cracks are deep splits through the bark and extending into the wood of the tree. They indicate that the tree is already failing, a dangerous situation.
Cracks also allow insects, disease and fungi to gain direct access into the wood of the tree. Weak branch unions are places where branches are not strongly attached to the tree.
Many species of trees have a natural tendency to develop weak branch unions; it is part of their form. Poor pruning techniques and topping also results in weak branch attachments. Look for multiple stems and upright branches with “narrow crotches” and “included bark.”
The presence of decay in itself doesn’t make a tree hazardous. Yet, advanced punky decay can lead to partial or total tree failure. Most decay grows from the inside out. Outward signs of advanced decay are mushrooms, conks and brackets growing on root flares, trunks and branches. Cankers, caused by injury or disease, are localized areas where the bark is sunken or missing. The presence of a canker increases the chances of failure at the point of or near the canker. Root problems can arise from compaction, construction damage, severing, girdling and root decay, to name a few.
A number of our native trees, including the Doug fir, Western hemlock and Big Leaf Maple, are prone to contracting root rots. Look for uprooted and leaning trees, sparse leaves or needles, prolific cone production, and dead wood and dieback in the crown of the tree.
Poor tree architecture indicates overall weakness or structural imbalance. This results from years of repeated damage caused by storms, unfavorable growing conditions, improper pruning and topping. Look for excessive lean, out of proportion branches, and weak branch attachments. Multiple defects increase the trees potential to fail. If there is more than one defect in the trees’ main stem, the tree could be extremely dangerous.
Corrective actions begin with a comprehensive evaluation. A certified arborist can help you determine whether your tree is a hazard. As a tree owner, your inspection should always be done from the ground only! Avoid using a ladder or climbing a tree. You don’t know what dangers lurk above. Use binoculars to view defects high up in a tree. Reducing risk and managing tree hazards should always be left to the professional. They may suggest one or more of the following corrective actions: remove the target, prune the tree, cable and brace the tree, provide routine maintenance, or remove the tree. For a list of certified arborists in your area, call (217)355-9411, or go to the website at www.is a-arbor.com.
If your tree is near a power line, please call your local utility company. Most power companies employ utility arborists that can help you determine whether your tree is a hazard in regards to the power lines.
Citizen comments are always welcome.
The Poulsbo Tree Board meets in the City Council Chambers at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. If you want more information about publications or assistance from the board, please call (360) 779-9898.