Debby sparing trees - so far

A large tree blocks Newberry Road after ripping down power lines. (Photo provided by Ted Rogers)

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.

With Tropical Storm Debby having made landfall on Florida's west coast and lashing the state with rain squalls, the region is in damage-control mode as rivers swell and waves tear into the shoreline.

So far, however, the relatively minimal winds have spared the area's trees.

"There hasn't been too much damage," John Burns, manager of Gainesville's Skyfrog Tree Service, said Tuesday.

"There's been some limbs snapping, but I haven't heard of any trees on houses," he said, noting that he had only a single crew out working on a damage call.

Quinn Stevens of Even Stevens Tree Service agreed.

"We're not getting much emergency work," he said. "We have people who are out looking up into their trees and getting worried, and we tell them to wait until this thing is done."

But the trees are not out of the woods quite yet. The worst may be yet to come.

Burns, who is an arborist, noted that the trees, especially the region's massive oaks, are now busy absorbing the record-setting rainfall. "In the coming days," he said, "some of them may reach their saturation points and begin failing at the base."

Stevens, too, anticipates that "trees may be rooted up once they take in the maximum amount of water."

If the winds increase, even a little, it could hasten the toppling of the trees, Burns said. "Even 30-40 miles an hour can mess you up," he said.

In the meantime, the tree cutters are avoiding the risks and staying out of the trees.

"Tree cutting is inherently dangerous as it is," Stevens said. "Safety first. Sending a crew out in this weather is a risk factor that's not worth taking."

"We prefer to do regular work and not pull trees off of power lines," Burns said. Debby "is actually hurting us now," he said. "It's dampening our business."

Meanwhile, the Better Business Bureau on Tuesday offered tips to people who have tree damage after a natural disaster:

Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements.

Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision. Be wary of door-to-door solicitations and check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.

Take time to shop around and get several estimates.

Verify with local agencies that businesses are required to be licensed/registered to do work in your area.

Ask if certified arborists, who have professional training and certifications, are on staff. An experienced arborist is particularly important on projects involving large trees or removal of substantial branches on established trees. Check for certification by the International Society of Arboriculture, or by a local certifying body such as a state arborist association.

Make sure each tree service you are considering has current liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance. All certificates of insurance should be sent from the tree service's insurance agency directly to you. Otherwise, it could be a fraudulent certificate.

Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name, address, license number, if applicable, and phone number are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don't sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at time of signature. Do not assume that tree stump removal is included in the contract if it is not specified.

Once you have picked a tree service you feel comfortable with, never pay for a tree removal or tree-trimming project of any kind until you are satisfied with the work. Pay by check or credit card only when the job is complete. Paying by credit card provides some recourse should the job not be completed as stated in the contract.

Ask how the job will be done, and if they will perform the work according to industry standards. If they mention "topping a tree," "lion's-tailing" or "using climbing spikes to prune a tree," the company does not follow industry standards. "Topping" is drastically cutting back the major limbs of a tree to reduce its size. "Lion's tailing" is an extreme stripping out of most of the interior branches of a tree. Such practices can injure or kill your tree.

Beware of a tree service that:

- Has no printed materials, letterhead, bid forms, etc.

- Is vague about formal credentials as an arborist.

- Offers an unusually low price ... at first.

- Accepts only cash payments, and/or asks for payment up front.

- Pressures you for an immediate decision.

- Offers you a discount to find other customers.

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