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Saving trees grows biz opportunities

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Saving trees grows biz opportunities

BRANCHING OUT: Arborist Bill Logan has diversified his business to serve varied clients. Photo credit: Buck Ennis

Hundreds of years old, the English elm that towers roughly 100 feet above the northwest corner of Manhattan’s Washington Square Park has a canopy that’s been thinned since spring, when a crew from Urban Arborists took saws to some of its higher limbs to protect pedestrians below. “We look at things like, How hollow is too hollow?” said Bill Logan, founder of the profitable, 14-employee Brooklyn firm that won the bid to assess the tree.

This surgical work taps into new initiatives transpiring today in many U.S. cities: taking better care of older trees, which, according to a recent study in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, are declining significantly. From 2004 to 2009 in New York City, development contributed to the loss of 1.2% of tree cover, or more than 2,000 acres’ worth of trees and shrubs.

“Instead of having a million-tree planting program, cities should also have a million-tree preservation plan,” said David Nowak, author of the report and a project leader with the U.S. Forest Service. “As you lose a mature tree, it takes 60 to 70 small trees to offset the loss in terms of canopy.”

Recognizing that established trees offer more health and environmental benefits, “cities are seeing a value in finding a way to keep older trees going,” said Jim Skiera, executive director of the International Society of Arboriculture.

$2M budget hike

That’s certainly the case in New York, where until recently, the spotlight fell on the city’s campaign to plant 1 million new trees throughout the five boroughs. But a recent spate of felled tree limbs—a few of which have killed passersby—has cast new light on the city’s aging trees, prompting lawmakers to allot an extra $2 million to the Parks Department’s budget specifically for tree pruning.

“There’s always a need for someone to care for older trees before they become sick and start falling about,” said Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at the Tree Care Industry Association.

The increase in the Parks Department’s budget will likely mean an uptick in jobs caring for the city’s “great trees,” which require a specific skill set that only a few tree-care companies have. According to Bram Gunther, the Parks Department’s chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources, just three firms, all larger than Urban Arborists, have bid alongside it on such projects: Asplundh Tree Expert Co., Bartlett Tree Experts and the Davey Tree Expert Co.

“These jobs aren’t lucrative, but they provide fill-in work,” said Kevin Kenney, local manager and arborist representative at Bartlett.

Despite increasing municipal work, arborists have to diversify to succeed. Mr. Logan, who says company revenue falls between $1 million and $2 million annually, relies mostly on private projects.

Dirty jobs

Mr. Logan, who helped found Garden Design magazine, also does some woodland landscape design. He teaches pruning techniques to the public at the Botanical Garden in the Bronx and private classes for city-employed foresters. He’s also written a series of books, one of which was made into the film Dirt! The Movie, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009.

His latest project is researching soils that would help the city’s trees escape a common killer: compacted dirt. “What keeps us interested are the problems that no one knows the answers to,” he said.


Written by vaphc

September 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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