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Assessing and Cleaning Up Storm-Damaged Trees: Stay Safe

By Karen Bennett, Cooperative Extension forest resources specialist
December 17, 2008

On Thursday, Dec. 11, Mother Nature covered much of the state in a glaze of ice that felled trees and ripped out power lines, cutting off power to more than half a million households and causing Gov. John Lynch to declare a state of emergency.

Four days later, tens of thousands of families are still without power, and many have moved into the 60 emergency shelters set up across the state. Once people have returned home, many will find themselves dealing with downed or ice-damaged trees. A few tips:

Don't panic; be safe and seek professional help: Removing large trees or limbs is dangerous. Don't climb a ladder with a chainsaw. Don’t climb into a damaged tree. Never touch any tree near electrical wires. Assess your particular tree situation carefully and watch for safety hazards.

Most tree work needs to be done by professional arborists, especially if the work requires climbing or when the tree is leaning against another tree or structure.

Assess immediate hazards first: Remove dead trees; trees or branches that are leaning; trees with broken or cracked stems; trees with extensive broken roots; and any large, dead, or broken limbs that are still attached to the tree.

Hire an arborist: Hiring a qualified arborist will get the work done properly and safely. Trained arborists are aware of proper pruning and removal procedures and can reduce the chance of further damage to the tree. Check to see that they are certified and ask for certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage and worker’s compensation. Also, request local references and get more than one estimate.

Prevent additional damage: Later, you may want to prune the damaged trees to improve appearance and reduce additional hazards. If the top has been broken, the tree should be pruned back to a strong lateral branch. Damaged branches should be pruned back to the branch collar.

Don’t forget to look at your trees in the spring and summer:
Some damage may not be immediately apparent. Hidden cracks may cause branches to droop when leaves come out in the spring. Stem decay, as well as cracks, may lead to structural loss, causing the tree or large branches to become hazardous. Root damage may not be evident until twigs or branches in the upper crown begin dying after two or three growing seasons.

Hire a forester: If you own large acreage, contact your County Extension Forester or a licensed forester to assess the damage, then salvage the trees if needed. Over time, damaged trees may develop decay and discoloration.

As long as it is safe, there is no need to rush. You have more than a year to act before you lose wood to discoloration and decay.


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