Worried About Your Tree?

We have gone from record drought to record amounts of snow and rain throughout California.  While the winter storms have wreaked havoc on our infra-structure (Oroville dam spillway, flooding in San Jose, etc, they have been a blessing for drought starved trees throughout the west.  Years of inadequate rainfall reduced soil moisture leading to an incredible dieback of trees numbering over tens of millions within the state.

The urban environment creates stresses not normally encountered in the wild.  In cities and suburbs, trees contend with confined planter area, compacted soils, improper or inadequate irrigation, poor maintenance practices, improper pruning, shading by homes or buildings.   Stresses created by the urban environment reduce tree life expectancy, sometimes by as much as 50%.

During the drought, I have seen an increase in tree failure, whether a limb drop or whole tree failure.  In most instances, crown, limbs, branch and twig dieback were the obvious symptoms of the drought.  Many times, clients mistakenly thought the dieback was caused by disease or insect, however root dieback from minimal soil moisture was the cause of crown dieback.

Now, with the heavy rainfall and wind, tree failure due to saturated soils are on the increase.  Trees remain upright due to their root system.  Structural and buttress roots grow outward from the trunk at the (root crown), out to the edge of the crown (known as the dripline).  At the dripline, the structural roots are 1-2″ in diameter.  They continue to grow outward, branching into the small, fine feeder roots that absorb moisture and nutrients.  Depending on local conditions, tree roots may extend 1.5 times the tree crown diameter.  Based on San Diego soil conditions, most roots grow within the upper three feet, typically 80% of the roots are within the top 18-24″ of the soil.

Roots in dry soil are held in place by friction.  However, when rain saturates the ground, it acts as a lubricant, lessening the soil friction holding roots in place.  When wind combines with excess weight from rain or snow, the energy is transmitted down the trunk to the roots.  Soil root friction reduced by saturation causes roots to loose anchorage, resulting in a failure.  When roots fail to support the tree, it is assessed as a root failure.  When the entire root ball rotates up from the soil, it is a soil failure.

Homeowners with large trees in close proximity to their property should examine their trees for any change in condition as a warning sign of a potential problem.  Changes to be aware of include:

  • Is the tree leaning?
  • Are there soil cracks at the base of the tree?
  • Is the soil lifting, tilting or rippling at the tree base?
  • Are there dead limbs or branches in the crown?
  • Is there a progression of twig, branch and limb dieback?
  • Did the tree drop it’s leaves abnormally early?
  • Did the tree not leaf out as in the past?
  • Any obvious open cavities, cracks or splits?
  • Any animals or insects nesting within a hollow, cavity or crack?
  • Any fluids, abnormal sap flow or other discharges from the tree?
  • Has irrigation been reduced or eliminated to the tree?
  • Has there been construction activity near the tree?
  • Have the roots been disturbed by any nearby utility or sidewalk work?
  • Is the tree sitting in water, is there proper drainage?
  • Has there been a change in grade near the tree?

If you can say yes to any of the above, your tree may have acquired defects that increase the risk of failure.  The increased risk of failure may result in property damage or personal injury to your family, friends, or any pedestrian near the tree.  A tree with a history of previous failures possesses an increased risk of failing.  Trees may not present any obvious signs or symptoms of a defect.  Unseen decay may exist within a limb or trunk, or as a root rot.

Whether commercial or residential property, if you are concerned about the health and safety of your trees, you should contact an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, (ISA).  Once certified, the ISA allows arborists to enroll in specialized training to earn the credential of a Tree Risk Assessor Qualified.  While anyone may attempt to assess the health and structural integrity of a tree, certified arborists who are qualified in tree risk assessment represent the industry standard and best management practice for tree risk assessment.

Tree risk assessment is the current best management practice to determine tree risk of failure associated with defects.  The assessment utilizes a level two basic visual assessment and a two page ISA format for the assessment protocol.  The assessor may determine more advanced assessment techniques are required, however usually a basic visual assessment will suffice.

If you have noticed a change in the health or condition of your tree, take proactive measures before a catastrophic accident, call a certified arborist knowledgeable in tree risk assessment.

Click here to read an article published in the LA Times Risk Assessment article.

Trees Damaging Los Angeles Infrastructure, Who Is Responsible for Liability and Repairs?

In May and June of 2015, The Los Angeles Times published articles addressing the problem of crumbling sidewalk infrastructure within the City of Los Angeles. The articles focused on the challenges pedestrians face in this car-dominated city. After years of mounting complaints and lawsuits caused by defective, dangerous sidewalks, city officials are finally beginning to address the problems caused by trees that were planted within city parkways, medians and right of ways.

Roots have damaged the sidewalk creating a trip and fall hazard

Roots have damaged the sidewalk creating a trip and fall hazard

After decades of deferred maintenance, the City Council, the Mayor, and public work officials are finally turning their attention toward addressing the problem, and trying to figure out how to juggle spending requirements resulting from legal settlements and sort out who is responsible for future sidewalk maintenance, as well as liability for future injuries caused by damaged sidewalks.

The first question, who is responsible for sidewalk repair and replacement caused by trees growing within city parkways and right of ways? California state law placed the burden of sidewalk repairs on adjacent property owners. A majority of California cities adhere to the state policy, however not the City of Los Angeles, which forty years ago opted for a policy that made the City responsible for repairing sidewalks damaged by tree roots in city parkways. Back in the 1970’s, when federal funding was available for the work, Los Angeles opted to pay for tree-damaged sidewalks. When the federal funding was depleted, voters declined to support tax increases for the repair work, leading to the current massive backlog of damaged sidewalks.

Instead of removing invasive, surface rooting tree species and replacing damaged sidewalks, the city embarked on a less expensive program of temporary asphalt patches in an attempt to smooth over displaced, uneven sidewalks. The problems continue to mount, with over 19,000 sidewalk complaints within the past five years alone. Over 40% of the complaints have been ignored, with no repairs having been made, mainly due to inspections never being made or the sidewalks so severely damaged they require complete rebuilding.

The City is now proposing a policy to address the situation. Under the proposed policy, neighborhood sidewalks damaged by city parkway trees would be replaced at the city’s expense. However, after repairs are completed, responsibility for repair, maintenance and liability would be shifted upon the adjacent property owner.

The proposal has received mixed comments from residential and commercial property owners. Businesses already pay taxes they assume local government should be using for infrastructure repairs. Additionally, requiring businesses to pay for repairs would harm retailers, especially in districts lined with problematics trees. Many commercial property owners would be forced to pass on the expense to the small business owners that rent the property.

Ficus roots creating a sidewalk hazard

Ficus roots creating a sidewalk hazard

Under the “fix and release” program, repairs would be made by the city, and then future responsibility for the sidewalks transferred to the homeowner. Some homeowners feel this would be an equitable solution to the current problem, other disagree, stating they would be saddled with big bills down the road, particularly if the city does not fix the “root” cause of the problem, that being tree roots or leaking utilities.

The city must grapple with both sides of a delicate issue, trying to preserve the benefits of large, picturesque trees providing neighborhood character while having to remove the same trees whose invasive roots have damaged infrastructure and would continue to do so if left in place. To begin the process, the city acknowledged they do not really know how extensive the problem is. The city has no existing tree inventory of the tree and sidewalk condition. Without this information, it would be difficult for the city to measure progress as they attempt to implement any new sidewalk management policy.

Certified and registered consulting arborists consult with Southern California municipalities and private property owners involved in trip and fall litigation caused by tree root lifted and damaged sidewalks. Typically lifted and damaged sidewalks caused by tree roots are due to inappropriate tree selection. Species such as Sycamore, Ficus, Eucalyptus and Ash trees planted decades ago in restricted parkway planters were most often associated with damaged infrastructure.

Sidewalk repair or replacement without addressing the existing tree species ignores the problem. Passing on responsibility for future repairs and liability to adjacent property owners would be an unjust situation for taxpayers. Large, surface rooting, invasive species should be closely examined for mitigation in conjunction with infrastructure replacement. Perhaps root pruning and root barriers might be an appropriate remediation that would protect future infrastructure while retaining large pre-existing species.

However, many species planted decades ago were and will always be inappropriate for confined parkways. Root pruning a large Ficus or Sycamore could easily de-stabilize the tree, resulting in a catastrophic failure. Who would be liable for a tree failure and resultant property damage, or worse, personal injury or death? Citizens might have to accept they cannot have the best of both worlds, where large, invasive trees are retained for neighborhood character, sidewalks are repaired and the city remains responsible.

Over the decades, many newer street tree species have been developed that provide desirable growth characteristics while minimizing damaging invasive root systems and towering canopies that conflict with traffic and overhead utilities. Reasonable compromises can and should be made toward replacing older, inappropriate tree species with newer species that will provide community benefits while minimizing maintenance costs and damaged infrastructure.

Hopefully, the City of Los Angeles and other municipalities facing this problem elect to use certified and registered consulting arborist and horticulturists as they consider how to address their urban forest and infrastructure issues.

To read the full Los Angeles Times Article, click the link:

L.A. Considers Shifting Responsibility to Property Owners

 

What is an RCA?

When I tell people I’m a consulting arborist they often ask what is that? Everyone is familiar with tree care companies, but not so much what the role of a consulting arborist. The common conception is when there is a tree problem, call up a tree contractor and have them do the work.

Yet, there are many tree problems that require expertise beyond a tree care company. When a tree has a change in condition or conflicts with infrastructure, a consulting arborist is required to assess the situation and make recommendations.

Consulting arborists have one or more certifications.  The primary designation is a certified arborist.  This designation is administered through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).  The second and more difficult designation to obtain is that of Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA), administered through the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Consulting arborists with the RCA designation are the preeminent authorities on tree related matters.

To receive the RCA designation, an individual must already be a certified arborist.  Once they meet the experience and education requirements, an applicant must enroll in the Consulting Academy.  This rigorous training focuses on technical and report writing. Applicants who receive their RCA designation are trained to produce the highest quality written reports and work product, a terrific benefit for attorneys, insurers and professional consultants.

To learn more about registered consulting arborists, please click on the link below.

What is an RCA

Landscape and Tree Contractors, Minimize Lawsuits, Understand Your Duty of Care!

If you are a landscape or tree care contractor, you should be aware of the potential liability you face by an unhappy client. This awareness begins when you understand your “duty of care” as a landscape or tree care professional.

What is “duty of care”? It is a very important legal concept that simply stated means a person or organization has the legal obligation to avoid acts or omissions that could harm others. The duty of care extends to your actions or lack of action that would cause harm to your client or their property, perhaps even extending to adjacent properties and utilities.

Licensed contractors should understand their client hired them for their expertise and professionalism. The client is reliant upon the contractor to provide a product and service that conforms to industry standards. It is incumbent upon the contractor to satisfy all contractual obligations and satisfy the industry standard of care, or face a possible lawsuit.

If you are a landscape, maintenance or tree contractor interested in learning how to minimize you legal exposure and reduce your liability, please read the full article at:

Reduce Liability by Understanding Your Duty of Care