Spring Tree Series with Mike Herrema: Tree Economics
This article is the second in a spring series on tree care. You can find the introduction interview with Mike here.
In the ISA catalog of Arborists, since I work for an educational institution, I’m listed as a private not for hire Arborist. Several times over the last couple of years, random property managers have called me to ask for a second opinion and review the services that a tree care company has recommended to them. They must assume, since I’m not for hire, I’m unbiased and don’t have a dog in the fight. They are shocked at the prices of the services and they wonder if everything being sold to them is really worth the investment. To their credit, it can get confusing wading through proposals of tree fertilization, pruning, cabling, disease suppression and prevention, and the like. I enjoy working with the Arborists from these companies, they can be valued partners, but it is important to have some sort of priority spending plan in mind when allocating money to tree care because sometimes I can get shocked by the price tag of the tree care proposals too.
In order to properly manage my budgets, I split my funding for tree care into three different categories. The first category is the political important tree or just a few trees that have sentimental value to the campus. These trees I’ll give all the recommended services to, including fertilization, pruning, and disease prevention. It is important to keep these trees alive and healthy, and I generally allocate the same lump sum of money to their upkeep every year because it is a continual investment (into the well-being of the tree and the security of your job!)
The second group of trees that I’m willing to invest money into, but maybe not as much, are the trees in prominent places. These are trees in places, like front entrances, that would look odd if they were missing, or dead, or in a state of decline. From experience I know it can cost several thousand dollars per tree to have a large mature tree spaded in replacement. It just makes sense to closely monitor these trees and consider programs like fertilization and disease prevention which are relatively cheap compared to tree replacement.
If any money remains in the budget, it gets allocated to the general tree population. All other trees fall into the last category which I weigh the cost of treatment versus the cost of tree replacement. I tend to not have these trees on a continual fertilization program, and only treat for disease suppression instead of prevention when it would cost less than removing the tree. I look only at risk management for pruning and cabling decisions instead of aesthetically for overall form. I’m more likely to rip out and replace small caliper trees especially when the long term outlook is mixed. If I decide to invest in a treatment program for a tree, I expect that the tree will show some signs of improvement, and not just to slow the rate of decline.
But, before the chainsaw is taken out to avoid spending money, I always put a cost on removal and replacement and compare it to treatment costs. Sometimes I can get away with not replacing the tree -especially if it was a wrong tree/wrong place scenario, but this generally not the case. Even if I’m planning on doing the removal in-house, I like to estimate the cost of my labor, clean up and disposal costs, and stump removal. These are all opportunity costs that I incur instead of doing something else. This gives me a better perspective into whether or not I should invest in the tree. I feel like this is the soundest economic decision I can make in regards to tree care for my trees in the general tree population. When I look at the cost analysis it pleasantly surprises me sometimes that the more cost effective option may be to invest into treating the tree for several years than to cut it down, because after all I do love trees.
Mike will be available to answer questions or talk trees in the comments below.