Use safety and caution during storm recovery work, and think twice

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Look familiar? This is the aftermath of the ice storm of 2007, described as the equivalent of a hurricane. The storm of 2017 may be far less damaging, but you can count on one thing: door knockers and tree butchers will come knocking, knocking, knocking at your door.

Some of us were fortunate and dodged the ice storm of early 2017. And some to the north of Springfield were not so lucky. The themes after any ice storm may sound familiar, but they are worth repeating, and so we will.

You may be certain of this. Many having good and caring neighbors to lend a helping hand, but don’t hire strangers who come knocking on your door wanting to “get rid” of those limbs, if only you will act now. These people make a living by swooping in after a storm to take advantage of worried and stressed homeowners, particularly the elderly who often don’t have someone to turn to in what may seem like mayhem unleashed.

In a few hours and days, the “tree butchers” will be lurking about offering to save your damaged tree by topping it, lopping it or even taking it down because it’s dying.

A good, certified arborists is too busy to generate business by just showing up with a beat-up truck. Door knockers are especially common after a storm and are notorious for recommending unhealthy tree-trimming practices such as “tree topping.”

Many don’t have a clue what they’re talking about except for one priority. Ripping off consumers.

“It’s best to go with a qualified arborist,” advises Ann Koenig, MDC Urban Forester. “Check the yellow pages under ‘Tree Service’ for International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborists who are locally established in your area.”

That usually means an office, a listed phone number and available references with contact information. It also means having liability insurance and proof of bonding. Being liste doesn’t guarantee that companies will do good work, but means that they should be easier to track down later if something goes wrong.

Ask for proof of certification and of membership in professional organizations such as ISA. Ask for proof of worker’s compensation and liability insurance, as well as local references. Good arborists are proud of their work and can provide a list of past clients. The emphasize safety, wear safety equipment and hard hats, and take no chances.

Do not accept “take-it-now or never” deals. The person offering these deals may pressure you into doing something you will regret later. Giving them money up front may well mean you never see them again.

That means you may try to tackle the job yourself. Whether you got hammered by the ice storm of 2017, it’s a good idea to refresh yourself on the rules for using a chain saw to cut or trim trees should use extreme caution to prevent injuries.

Know your skill level and do not take on more than you can safely accomplish yourself.

“Slippery ice, brittle, heavy wood, and chainsaws are an extremely dangerous mix for homeowners,” warns Ann Koenig. “Leave it to professionals with proper training, experience, and equipment to take care of large trees and any work off the ground.”

“In the hands of a careless, inexperienced or tired operator, a chain saw can be very hazardous. Injuries from a chain saw are usually quite serious,” says Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

More than 40,000 people require hospital treatment each year for chain-saw-related accidents, according to the U.S. Product Safety Commission. To reduce risk of injury, select a saw that fits the project and is balanced and has safety features. It is also a good idea to read the operating manual.

“One of biggest dangers in operating a chain saw is kickback. Kickback occurs when the nose of the guide bar strikes another object,” warns Schultheis. “It can result in severe upper body, neck or facial injuries or death. This contact may cause a lightning-fast reverse action of the guide bar back toward the operator.”

While the smaller consumer chain saws must come equipped with a low-kickback (or safety) chain when purchased, this is no guarantee that kickbacks will not occur.

Be sure to match the length of the saw’s guide bar to the type of job you expect to do most often. Do not attempt to cut material that is larger than the guide bar you choose.

A guide bar 8 to 14 inches long is good for trimming limbs, cutting small logs and felling small trees. Mid-weight saws with 14- to 20-inch guide bars are used to cut logs and for felling small-to-medium-diameter trees. Heavyweight saws with guide bars longer than 20 inches are for professional use and are not recommended for consumers.

Occasional saw operators as well as professionals should wear protective clothing like safety glasses, earplugs, high-top shoes, gloves and hard hats.

For more information on chain saw safety and use, contact the MU Extension center nearest you and ask for guide sheet 1959, “Basic Chain Saw Safety and Use,” and guide sheet 1958, “Felling, Bucking and Limbing Trees,” or obtain them online at extension.missouri.edu.

“Trees are a part of the character of our community and damage to them after a storm can feel traumatic,” said MDC Urban Forester Ann Koenig. “Trees are amazingly resilient, so after a storm, try to be patient.”

When storms damage trees, clean-up and recovery can seem overwhelming and bewildering. Some injured trees can be trimmed to maintain their health and value, while others should be removed. Knowing what repairs to make, how to make them, and how to avoid paying for unneeded services can help keep injury – both physical and financial – at a minimum.

Before taking action to trim or remove trees damaged in an ice storm, residents should consider the following advice from MDC:

Be aware of utility lines and hazardous overhanging limbs. Alert your electricity provider immediately and allow experts to assess the danger.

Remove trees or limbs that have fallen on your home or are blocking access to your residence. Also, look for any hanging limbs in trees that could drop on your home.

Any remaining tree damage can wait until the immediate crisis has passed. As long as there isn’t a safety risk, take your time to assess the damage and make decisions on which trees to cut and which ones to save. If a tree does not present a hazard, take the time to ensure it gets proper care and make a final decision about it in a few weeks or months.

And don’t neglect your own liability and safety. Before beginning any tree work, determine whether your insurance policy covers tree work. Many policies will cover at least part of the cost of tree removal if some structural damage has occurred.

Determine whether damaged trees need pruning or complete removal. If a valuable tree appears to be a borderline case, resist the temptation to simply cut the tree down and be done with it. Remember, time is on your side. After carefully pruning broken branches, give the tree time to recover. Often, new foliage will return the tree to its natural beauty. If not, the decision to remove the tree can always be made later.

Good arborists do not recommend topping. Conscientious arborists also will not use climbing spikes unless the tree is to be removed or someone is hurt. These practices damage trees unnecessarily.

Trees are amazingly resilient and often possess the ability to recover from severe conditions over time.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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