The past week’s tree-related headlines were topped by a tragedy

Torrential rains soaked southern California for several days.  In San Jose, a family returning home parked their car under a large shade tree in front of their house.  Just as the parents were unbuckling their 2-year-old son from his car seat, the tree fell and crushed the car, killing the young boy.  News articles on the story were accompanied by many reader comments about the accident, some readers blaming the city for being negligent for allowing a hazard tree to exist, and some asserting that such an “act of God” was horrific, but unpredictable.

A casual observer probably could not have anticipated the failure of this tree.  But evidence I saw (from 3,000 miles away, of course) showed some defects that would have raised red flags for an arborist, had one been employed to assess the condition of the tree.  Previous improper pruning and the burying of the tree’s trunk flare was obvious, and would have indicated to the arborist a need for a more comprehensive inspection, which in turn would likely have resulted in the prediction of a high probability of failure.  But of course, it is too late now.

After the tree had fallen the reason for its failure was obvious – there was very little support root structure remaining.

But the question (for the lawyers to decide) – whose fault was it?  Was this an unpredictable “act of God” or should the church, on whose property the tree stood, be held liable for the car owner’s loss because it failed to remove a predictable hazard?

Once again the average person probably would not have noticed an impending catastrophe by looking at the tree.  It probably looked reasonably healthy, and there were no really obvious defects to the above-ground portion.  But, (also once again) an inspection by a qualified arborist would surely have turned up evidence of this tree’s hazard potential.

Do you see the “mushroom” at the base of the tree trunk?

This is the fruiting body of a decay fungus (it appears to be Inonotus dryadeus).  This would have told me that the tree probably has an extensively decayed root system.  With that information the tree owner might have decided to do something to avoid this problem.

But, once again it is now too late.  And, as I said, it’s now a job for the lawyers.

Herbie the Famous Elm tree of Yarmouth, Maine has been cut down. See the excellent TV video of the story.

The tree news story of the week has been about the demise of a veteran tree in Yarmouth, Maine.  It was probably the largest remaining American elm in New England, and one of the few big ones that has, until now, escaped the deadly Dutch elm disease.  This excellent TV video includes an interview with the 101 year old former town arborist who helped keep the tree alive for the past 50 years.

Today we did our first cat rescue

There’s no such thing as a cat stuck up in a tree.  If he could get up there, he can get down.  Never saw a cat skeleton in a tree, ever!

So today, the phone rang while I was at my desk (indoors, my least favorite work environment).  The caller said he had an unusual question and didn’t know who else to call.  His cat had been in the top of a tree in his backyard for over two days.  He sounded like he was slightly embarrassed to ask me to come out and rescue it.  He also sounded worried.

I told him I’d call him right back, after I contacted my crew.  I called the crew’s two cell phones and got no answer (our job sites can be loud).  While waiting for their return call, I pondered this job request.  Should we do it?  The cat will probably come down itself eventually.  Will my climber be reluctant to risk getting scratched and bitten over a cat?  Then I decided “yes – of course we’re going to do this – we can use the blanket method of wrapping the cat, like when we need to take ours to the vet, to avoid being injured if the cat’s response is ungrateful.  And besides, this guy’s concern is genuine – he didn’t even ask what I’d charge, he just wanted his cat safe.

So I called the man back and told him we’d be there within an hour.  I drove to the nearby property where my men were working and enlisted my foreman, Ricky.  We took the tree truck (which contains every piece of equipment we could possibly need) and together we went to Eagleville to meet the anxious cat owner.

He was waiting outside when we got there and pointed immediately to the top of the tallest ash tree at the rear of his property.  The cat’s name is Budweiser.  A big orange tom cat.  It was petrified.  Its free paw was actually shaking as it looked down at us.  Ricky proceeded to set his climbing line in the tree, using the throwball.  This scared the cat even more, causing it to pee.  A lot.  Thankful that the cat’s bladder was now probably empty, Ricky ascended the tree.

Almost there!


“Bud” is bundled for the trip down.

Ricky wouldn’t have needed the blanket – the cat seemed very agreeable to receive company up there.  The descent was uneventful.

Coming down.

So back to the beginning of this story.  The myth that it is impossible for a cat to get into a situation where it can’t come down is just that – a myth.  In most cases they eventually will get out of the predicament on their own, especially if left alone without too much fuss and attention.  But if several days go by and they are still up there with no food and especially with no shelter in bad weather, they probably actually do need intervention.



I learned a lot about this topic and you can too, from Dan Kraus’s website:  Dan is a world-class professional climber and a really good guy, and his website contains a directory of climbers throughout this country and internationally (!) who are willing to take on this type of emergency rescue job.

It’s been a while since I’ve showed tree news through this column, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any.  The last months of 2009 were actually very eventful in the local arborworld, I’ve just been a little too preoccupied to report on it. But I promise to get back on here really soon with a recap.  Check back next week if you’re curious.