Connecticut and Trees: Is the Love Affair Over?

Nov 7, 2011

Most storm clouds have a silver lining, and the freak October snowfall was no exception. Connecticut’s tree companies have work ahead of them for many, many months. 

In Vernon, Sue Peterson is surveying the scene of devastation in her front yard.

“It was huge Norway maple. Huge, huge tree.”

She was in the dark after her power failed on the Saturday night of the storm.

“As the night wore on we could hear the trees just cracking and creaking and thudding when they hit the ground. And then around 11 o’clock that night is when our maple tree in the front split and half landed on the house.”

She says it was very frightening, but it could have been worse.

“Fortunately from what it looks like, it hasn’t breached the roof, but there is damage. There is a seven foot long crack in the bedroom ceiling and I’m concerned about structural damage.”

“I’ve been cutting for 20 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Justin St Peter of New England Tree Experts, based in East Hartford, confirms that Peterson is relatively lucky.

“There’s people that have got tree branches right through their house, right through the first and second floor. Inside cutting the wood out so we can get the limbs out of the house. It’s pretty bad.”

New England Tree Experts was receiving as many as a thousand calls per day all through last week from homeowners in dire straits. St Peter estimates he worked 80 hours in the five days after the storm, and he says they’ve had to prioritize only those callers in true emergency situations. But he cautions anyone who still hasn’t had professional help to be careful.

“People are going outside with ladders and trying to do stuff theirself. When the trees fall, they’re like, spring-loaded and they’re very dangerous just to cut. People – they want to get their house back, they want to get their yard back. But you’re better off calling a professional and letting someone take care of it for you.”

That scene in Vernon is being repeated in thousands of other front yards all across the state. Mark Garvin is President of the Tree Care Industry Association. He was coincidentally in Hartford last week for a tree care expo. He says this storm and before it, Hurricane Irene have lifted his industry’s fortunes.

“Most of our members were having actually very good years. Now it’s going to be a tremendous year. Things seem to have turned around in our industry. We usually are a bit of a lagging indicator, but most of the members I talked to here had very good years this year.”

Connecticut has temporarily lifted restrictions on arborists not licensed in the state, allowing them to work here. But Garvin warns that while there are plenty of reputable companies coming in, major storms are always followed by scam artists trying to take advantage of desperate homeowners.

“There are a lot of out of town tree companies here. And unfortunately there are going to be some out of town unscrupulous tree companies, who are going to ask for cash up front, and then they’ll disappear. Under no circumstances should any homeowner pay any tree company for any work beforehand.”

Even as the immediate emergency tree work begins to slow, the pace may not slacken for tree professionals in Connecticut.

“I like to say that Connecticut residents are forest dwellers in many regards.”

Chris Martin heads the forestry division of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In effect, he’s Connecticut’s chief forester.

“We have over three and half million people in our small little state, but from an aerial view, we are canopy covered. Over 60 percent of the state, according to the USDA forest service, is forested. Now, what’s below that forest canopy is where the people live and where the utility lines are.”

And that reality has now moved front and center, with a growing consensus, from the Governor on down, that the situation is untenable. Martin says he hopes for moderation as decisions are taken on tree trimming and removal.

“There’s going to be a lot of debate on this coming down this next legislative session. Connecticut is, I would say blessed, with many, many tree professionals. So there’s going to be a lot of input, I hope, from a broad array of folks interested in trees, and also in keeping continuity of power to houses.”

He says some towns that have cut back on their trees have discovered a downside.

“Trees in general reduce energy costs over their lifespan, and we known in Worcester, Massachusetts where there’s been incredible tree removal due to the Asian Longhorn Beetle, neighborhoods that were once tree-lined and shaded, the individual homeowner’s costs sometimes have doubled.”

Back in Vernon, as the tree company’s chain saws continue working, turning her Norway maple into just so much firewood and brush, Sue Peterson is trying to see the silver lining also.

“We had so many leaves to rake. So I said to my daughter, the blessing is we won’t have to rake leaves this Fall, so that’ll be good.”