To be an arborist one must establish a basic level of experience and comprehension in the field of tree care. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is the organization that certifies tree workers around the world and helps to expand the knowledge gained at universities and private research laboratories such as the F.A. Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories out to the men and women who do this work on a daily basis. There are several types and levels of certification that can be obtained through the ISA depending on the type of work you intend to perform. For the vast majority of people reading this blog we can focus in on just a few basic things you can look for to make sure the person you call will be able to help.
The arborist you use should be someone with both the knowledge and experience to know what needs to be done, but also someone you’re comfortable working with. We like to thank of this relationship in a similar way to how you think about your family doctor. In many cases with large trees near the home or outdoor living spaces you are trusting the safety of your home and family to this person. You need to know they are competent and they will speak up when they see an issue.
Certifications can easily be checked at the ISA website (http://www.isa-arbor.com) and I encourage you to do that. There are three credentials I would like to cover here that can help determine the skillset of the arborist you plan to work with. They are ISA Certified Arborist, TRAQ (Tree Risk assessment Qualification), and the BCMA (Board Certified Master Arborist). The ISA Arborist Certification shows that an individual has at least 3 years of experience or equivalent formal education in the field. This should be the baseline when choosing an arborist. The TRAQ qualification is in addition to the basic certification and includes an education from the ISA about how to identify and evaluate tree risk. If you are concerned with the safety of a tree or you want a formal written risk assessment for a tree, this is a good qualification to look for. Lastly is the BCMA, a certification that is quite rare in the field. Approximately 2% of ISA Certified Arborists go on to obtain this credential and it is notoriously difficult to obtain. This shows the person you’re working with is truly at the top of his or her field and is committed to the industry as a whole. Typically these arborists have ten or more years and many have higher degrees in the biological sciences.
Education, experience level, and reputation can also be important aspects to look for in your new arborist. I mention these separately because I feel they are explicitly necessary to being a good arborist. I know many excellent arborists without a formal education and a few with a higher degree that don’t have a good understanding of how trees develop in the real world. In this age of online reviews it’s also important to understand that a few bad reviews don’t always indicate a bad arborist. Look for trends with online reviews and try to be forgiving of isolated negative experiences. Remember a referral from landscapers or friends are often an excellent way to get started.
I want to leave you with what I feel is the most important aspect of choosing an arborist. You need to feel comfortable with this person. The arborist you choose needs be able to help, that’s where the certifications comes in, but they also need to be able to speak up when they run into something they don’t understand or when they see a safety concern. One of the hardest things I do in this job is pointing out an unsafe tree that I know my client loves. It’s also difficult when I don’t know what’s wrong. Just like a good doctor knows when to refer you to a specialist. When an arborist doesn’t know how to proceed he or she needs to communicate that to you. Arboriculture is an immense field and no one person understands all of it. I frequently turn to other arborists or the staff at our lab to gain insights into something new or outside my understanding. Developing this trust is why I highly recommend meeting face to face with your arborist; this is especially true when looking for a new arborist. Feel free to start small and ask that they take care of a small issue and see how they work. Make sure they are reliable, that they do good work, and that they crews work safely. This is your home and you deserve to feel comfortable with everyone you invite onto your property.
At the end of the day, these trees are living breathing things that can bring value and joy to your life or they can have the power to considerable damage. Excellent tree care is critical and you have the right as a homeowner to make sure you have a competent person looking out for your welfare.