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Tree maintenance important for health of plant, safety of people

Time to Trim
Adam Williams, of Northern Arborist Tree Service, rappels safely down from the tree after trimming its top last spring. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle

The familiar sight of towering oak trees lining the streets of neighborhoods and along public roads is a cherished part of living or working in Butler County.

However, mighty oaks and other native trees don’t just provide shade and beauty. They can pose challenges for utilities and local governments tasked with maintaining public infrastructure and safety.

As urban areas have grown and development has increased throughout the county, competition for space between trees, power lines, sidewalks, and other public utilities has intensified.

Deciding how and when to remove trees from the public right of way and private property is a complex process that balances environmental, financial, and public safety concerns.

Utility companies and municipal departments must carefully evaluate each tree’s risks and benefits before determining whether it needs to be removed or pruned. Factors such as a tree’s size, location, health, and potential to interfere with power lines and other infrastructure all come into play.

Ryan Succheralli, state Department of Transportation District 10 roadside specialist, said PennDOT has specific criteria for trees located in a right of way.

“If something in the right of way is a safety concern such as impacting visibility or obstructing a roadway, it can be removed by PennDOT,” he said. “If it is blocking signage, it can be trimmed back.”

When funding is available, Succheralli said PennDOT prefers to trim trees before a paving project to allow sunlight on the road to protect the pavement from moisture, a practice called “daylighting.” However, any known dead, decaying or otherwise hazardous trees are removed immediately regardless of location.

“In the past, we have received discretionary funds for dead trees,” he said.” We went by the average daily traffic (ADT) of the road and the number of trees present.”

PennDOT consults with local municipalities before trimming or removing trees.

“Typically, yes, if it is within a city or borough because they are responsible for the maintenance of any trees and vegetation within their limits,” Succheralli said. “Townships we would contact if any tree or vegetation was part of an enhancement or beautification project.”

Special consideration is given to trees that may have cultural, environmental or historical significance. Succheralli said PennDOT relies on the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory report to determine if there are any environmental concerns with trimming or removing a tree, with a primary concern for endangered bats.

“We have to work within the given timeline, which is typically November through April. Any historical or cultural issues are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

On private land, damaged and diseased trees can threaten safety and risk damage to your property due to an increased risk of large limbs or the entire tree falling. They increase homeowners’ liability if a tree from their property falls and causes injury or damage to another person’s property or belongings.

What to look for

Adam Williams, owner of Northern Arborist Tree Service, operates the largest tree service in Butler. He has worked in the industry for 25 years. Williams said the most common reasons for tree removal are hazardous trees that are too close to a house.

“Decay and disease are major reasons for removal,” he said. “And from the storms we’ve had in the last few years, people are trying to move certain trees away so they can’t fall on their houses.”

Williams says he doesn’t try to talk property owners into taking every tree down. Some trees just need more maintenance than others. Oaks are among the trees that become unhealthy if they are not maintained every three to five years.

Knowing when to prune based on the type of tree is important. Trimming trees out of season can kill them, Williams warned.

“Most trees should not be pruned in the summer,” he said. “I try to properly prune trees first. Some trees just have a lot of dead wood on them. I’ll go in and remove the dead wood so the tree can thrive.”

The ones he recommends for removal are the truly hazardous ones. Sometimes homeowners want a tree removed, and he will advise against it if the tree is healthy and sturdy and not causing any immediate issues.

“But in the end, if they still want it removed, I’ll remove it,” he said.

Fungus and mushrooms are among the first signs a tree needs to be removed.

“If there is fungus around the trunk or on the root system, that’s the first sign of root rot to where the root system rots away and makes the tree easier to uproot,” Williams said.

Union trees — those with a shared trunk that splits into two parts — with black stuff coming out of them are diseased or decayed and should be evaluated for removal as well. Another hazard with union trees is the potential for one part of the union to split, making the other half vulnerable to falling.

Any tree with a hard lean toward a building is an imminent danger, and Williams recommends dealing with it sooner rather than later.

He said blue spruce trees experiencing blight also should be removed because there is no hope of bringing them back.

Having an arborist such as Williams evaluate trees provides a complete picture of a tree’s overall health and whether anything can be done to save it.

“Sometimes trees can be treated with injections to help with certain diseases,” Williams said.

This article first appeared in the May edition of Butler County Business Matters.

Adam Williams safely moves from the top of a tree with assistance from Lee Carney, left, and Sam Paraska of Northern Arborist Tree Service in Butler. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle
Adam Williams, of Northern Arborist Tree Service, watches as the top of a tree he trimmed begins to fall to the ground in Butler. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle
Lee Carney disposes of a trimmed tree. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle
Adam WIlliams, of Northern Arborist Tree Service, plans his next cuts on a tree being removed in Butler. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle
Mike Vivio, of Northern Arborist Tree Service, directs traffic as Adam Williams makes harness adjustments before making cuts to a tree. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle
Lee Carney, of Northern Arborist Tree Service, provides another layer of safety while watching Adam Williams trim a tree. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle

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