Tree Assessment Is Wise Risk Management

By Johnson, Tim A. | Public Management, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Tree Assessment Is Wise Risk Management


Johnson, Tim A., Public Management


For all the beauty and character that trees lend to a neighborhood, development project, or other public space, they also can cause great concern and potential liability when their condition becomes questionable. Local government managers and risk managers face the responsibility and challenge of reducing the risk that aging or diseased trees may injure people or damage property. Reducing tree hazards is not just a smart way to minimize accident claims and exposure to legal liability, it's an essential duty in creating a safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing environment.

Preemptively chopping down healthy trees is not the best solution to managing this risk. Trees not only enhance the charm and appeal of a property but also attract birds and other wildlife, offer shade, help to reduce energy costs, and boost landscape value. Finding the right balance in tree management is made more complex when you consider legal risks, which can prove substantial in cases related to tree maintenance. Several courts around the United States have held property owners responsible for personal injury or property damage when they knew--or should have known--of the potential for tree hazards on their properties.

One way to complement a community's tree management program is to ask a registered consulting arborist (RCA) to help sort out the risks and make sound decisions about the trees in public spaces. As experts on tree care issues, RCAs undergo intensive training and skills development to earn the industry's professional designation. By conducting a comprehensive tree risk assessment, an arborist can measure tree damage and evaluate tree health and risk factors to recommend which trees to sacrifice and which to save.

IDENTIFYING TREE RISK POTENTIAL

If a manager decides to consult an arborist for a tree risk assessment, he or she can expect to receive an identification of potential tree hazards and recommendations for corrective action. The RCA will assess existing tree defects and forecast the chances of tree failures and threats to public safety.

In most cases, visual examination is enough to serve as a good review of tree health and viability. The arborist will look for defects at the tree roots, trunk, branches, and leaves. In a high-risk situation or one in which tree defects are suspected but not readily identifiable, an in-depth tree assessment using specialized tools and techniques should be conducted.

Typically, a risk assessment involves a ranking of the assessed trees on a property, ranging from low- to high-risk. The highest-risk trees, of course, are those at imminent risk of failure. If a serious tree hazard is identified, immediate removal is warranted. …

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