Mayfield, KY – It's a beautiful breezy afternoon near Mayfield Public Housing; a few children are playing basketball behind a group of hard hat wearing, chartreuse vested individuals outfitted with GPS Units and antennae. One might think with these instructions a serious game of capture the flag was about to commence.
"Team number one will start at this point here and head up 5th street toward Anderson "
In fact this group of 11 arborists is an Urban Forest Strike team. They are working their way though many Western Kentucky towns to assess tree damage for FEMA reimbursement. The arborists are simply determining the risk factor associated with each tree to determine whether it has sustained enough damage to merit removal. Then FEMA will pay a significant portion of the removal or pruning costs. Urban Forestry Coordinator with the Kentucky Division of Forestry Sarah Gracey explains.
"We're wearing our hard hats. These trees pose quite a bit of risk. We assess different areas that we work in differently. For instance this morning we worked in a cemetery, which doesn't have very much traffic, but it is a public area. Now we are headed to a housing area well will mark these trees as being frequented at a higher rate".
Gracey and her teammate Paul Revelle, who hails from Virginia, tout their arboriculture background to help demarcate the human risks and needs of the tree.
"Sometimes there's a tendency after these storms of people to be afraid of tree's and sometimes there is a tendency for crews to take out perfectly healthy good trees, and we want to avoid that. Conversely there's trees that might have been missed by the clean up crews that have subtle but serious defects that ought to be taken out might be missed. And in equation we want to help."
Hangars, split bark and rot are some of the issues facing every tree along this block. As we continue down the path, an oddly shaped tree grabs the team's attention. A once beautiful oak tree became a casualty to one of the most common remedies for an overgrown or damaged tree. It was topped. This is where a trimmer lops off branches at will, essentially giving the tree a flat top where you would normally see a rounded or oval crown. Gracey and Revell use this opportunity to reinforce the need of trained arborists when trimming trees.
"We like to make trees consistent with the biology of the tree. We would take a branch next to the next largest branch. (Topped trees) branches are just places for infection."
Topping trees not only hinders the natural growing process, but as Revell explains it may dramatically shorten the life of the tree.
"When you cut at the end of the branch like that, it can't callous over, and tree's like to compartmentalize. That will be a continual point of decay and rot for that tree.
Chad: "Why do you think people err on the side of topping trees.
Gracey: "Well, unfortunately, a lot of people just don't know any better. A lot of people are afraid of trees, but there is no need to fear a perfectly healthy tree."
Perfectly healthy trees, though, are not always safe from once in a lifetime disasters, like January's ice storm. Gracey says no amount of preventative care could have kept every tree safe, but taking proper care of your trees could prolong their lives and maybe decrease the damage they sustain when the next natural disaster comes along.