By Andrew Lyman
Effectively and efficiently being able to deal with expansive storm damage to trees is a challenge that requires planning before the storm hits. At Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pa., we developed a comprehensive Tree Management Plan to organize the continual care of the approximately 5,000 trees on the property, but discovered that the plan also proved its worth in dealing with storm damage. As we found out, having a plan to deal with disasters can help to organize emergency work while increasing efficiency on a day-to-day basis.
It’s all about the trees
Trees are an important part of Longwood Gardens’ heritage. One of the world’s great display gardens, Longwood is the legacy of Industrialist Pierre Samuel du Pont. In 1906, du Pont purchased the property to prevent the harvest of a collection of nationally recognized trees, some nearly 200 years old. This care for trees was ingrained by founder du Pont, as is evident in this quote from the Caretaker’s Notebook of 1912: “No tree, dead or alive, is to be removed or trimmed, no matter whether located on the farm or in the woods, unless by special permission of the owner…The preservation and care of trees is considered of first importance, as their injury is irreparable, while time and money (or both) will rectify most other mistakes.” Today, Longwood encompasses 1,077 acres, has one of the largest conservatories in North America, more fountains than any other garden in the United States and welcomes more than 883,000 visitors each year.
Because Longwood was founded to save the historic trees (many of which are still on the property) their care and upkeep are critically important to the organization. Therefore, Longwood developed the Tree Management Plan to facilitate the care of the 5,000 trees on the property — of which 63 are state champion or co-champion trees and 53 second- or third-place trees. Managing the large acreage of trees on the property can be a daunting process. In the past, pencil and paper coupled with the encyclopedic knowledge of the employees were the only tools used to keep track of work. Today, with the help of computers and Geographic Information System (GIS) software, Longwood has developed a management plan for the 21st century.
The Tree Management Plan, like any good management tool, establishes goals for the arborist crew. Safety is paramount, both for guests and the employees. As everyone in the tree care industry knows, all trees have some level of risk; it is a question of what level is acceptable and how to address those situations that are not. The Longwood Safety Program follows the ANSI Z133.1-2006 Standards, and fosters a culture of safety. The second goal of the plan is to implement sound arboriculture practices as outlined in ANSI A300, but is also supported by furthering education and training to increase knowledge and skill development in our evolving industry. Finally, keeping detailed work records reduces the risk of litigation by being proactive with inspections and remediating hazards while establishing a reasonable standard of care.
Implementing the plan
Longwood is similar to many estates, campuses and municipalities in that, although the job site may change daily, the property boundaries are static. Longwood cares for the same population of trees every day, so an inventory is essential to efficiently manage the resource. As part of the plan, each tree is accessioned (given an individual label), photographed, mapped and measured in the GIS.
With each tree accessioned, the arborists walk through their sections to formulate recommendations for the trees. Each arborist (five in all) is assigned a section of the gardens. A standard form was created in Excel and uploaded to a PDA to eliminate the need to transpose data from a hardcopy to the computer. Each column has specific letters that represent options to streamline the process. This information is downloaded to the Longwood network and is available to the crew. From this list, individual work items are added as appointments in the Microsoft Outlook calendar.
Included in the appointment is the accession number for each tree. In the field, arborists carry the same PDAs used in the walk-through, which contain a mobile version of the GIS that allows them to locate trees through an electronic map and record any work completed. Recorded information is downloaded to the GIS.
The plan’s role in storm response
For example, immediately following an intense February 2010 storm, the arborist crew began assessing storm damage. Damaged trees above main roads and paths were considered high risk. Damage that affected secondary paths were moderate risk, while damage over turf or in perimeter areas were low risk. Special care was taken to close paths to guests and employees to avoid injury from falling debris. That afternoon, following the assessment, the Longwood arborist crew began clearing debris from major roads. While the initial stages of cleanup took place, I (as senior arborist) began processing the data and formulating a plan of attack, placing items on the Arborist Work Schedule using Microsoft Outlook.
The first step was to download the data from the PDAs and merge it into an Excel file. The assessment revealed 168 items — either trees or groves of trees — that needed to be pruned or removed. It became clear that a contractor would have to be contacted to perform the work in the perimeter areas while the Longwood Crew addressed the trees in the Gardens. An agreement with a local tree service had been established that secured their help in the case of an emergency, and they were able to dedicate two crews to the clean-up effort.
Of the 168 items, 27 were high priority and required immediate attention. A total of 55 items were medium priority while the lion’s share (86 items) were low priority. Damage occurred on 38 different species in 19 genera. As expected, most of the damage occurred to conifers (80 percent of the total, excluding deciduous conifers like Taxodium and Metasequoia), with White Pine (Pinus strobus) making up one third of the total damage.
While planning the cleanup, safety was the primary concern. Barricades remained in place to secure potentially hazardous areas. Some fallen branches were buried under two feet of snow, presenting the possibility of back injuries. A winch was used to skid brush to the path or road, reducing the strain on employees. Some branches that were buried too deep were simply left until the snow had melted.
Once the high-priority work was completed, medium-priority work was the next order of business. By the second week of March, all high- and medium-priority items had been addressed. The second week in April marked the completion of all the low-priority work. The contracted tree work lasted for 36 days.
Throughout the entire process, completed work was recorded and labeled so all work could be searched and tracked in the GIS as well as the Outlook Calendar.
Looking to the future
One valuable aspect of tracking all information related to storm damage, or any work, is that it can be analyzed to determine trends. In this case, the overwhelming majority of storm damage occurred on white pines (32 percent). Most of the damaged pines were original to the property when they were first accessioned in 1953, and are 20 inches or larger in diameter. To address this propensity for damage, it may be helpful to reduce the crown to lessen the probability of whole-branch or trunk failure. Time and labor constraints prevent this from being a feasible solution but perhaps there is another: Reduce the amount of white pines being planted as replacements by finding an adequate substitute. In the short term, this decision would not decrease the likelihood of damage but may prove useful in the future.
Because of this storm and the information we recorded, we have data that gives us a time and cost associated with storm cleanup and contracted work. Knowing the expense of a storm of this magnitude better prepares us for the future by determining how the budget should be allocated to deal with emergency situations.
Create your own tree management plan
Creating a tree management plan is time consuming, but, in the end, it is well worth the effort. In the initial stages, the majority of work (completing an inventory, creating goals, writing and revising the assessment document) is time intensive. Another consideration is cost. Purchasing a computer, PDA and GIS software is expensive but can be justified by increased productivity — imagine the convenience and time you can save by having everything at your fingertips instead of searching through mounds of paper, deciphering handwritten notes and searching through filing cabinets. Everything can be on your desktop or laptop computer and synched to your PDA! The advantage gained by the ability to easily access and manage the data is immeasurable.
Keeping track of costs and time spent on jobs can help you better estimate future needs. In the case of storm damage, your management plan can help you to better allocate resources for future catastrophic events. It may help to track trends and identify which species or locations are most susceptible to damage, or, when compared with costs, which jobs have the lowest/highest rate of return.
A management plan is a long-term tool with almost limitless possibilities. Establishing goals, performing an inventory and accurately recording treatments and costs are the basics of a good plan. Developing rules and procedures may be applicable for certain situations (risk assessments, appraisals, inventory protocols, construction specs) so they can be repeatable, unbiased, and withstand legal scrutiny. Keeping your plan adaptable and relevant to your needs is vitally important for you and your organization or client. If you manage an estate, college campus or municipality, consider creating your own management plan. In the end, you will be glad you did.
Andrew Lyman is senior arborist at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pa., www.longwoodgardens.org