County’s Tree Advisory Council again recommends licensing program for tree trimmers, to reduce fatalities and promote health of trees

Commissioners ask advisory board members to work with senior county staff on proposal

This is a photo presented to the commissioners on June 7, showing a tree trimmer who was not using personal protective equipment. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In response this week to a recommendation of the Sarasota Tree Advisory Council, the County Commission asked that the advisory board members work with senior county staff on the potential of a licensing program for all tree trimmers in the county.

On June 7, in presenting the annual report of the Council, Chair Amber Delehanty showed the commissioners a series of photos of slash pines and palms that had been over-trimmed and defoliated.

A licensing process for all tree trimmers in the county, Delehanty pointed out, would ensure the safety of those workers, as well as property owners — and prevent damage to trees that could result in the necessity of their removal from the landscape.

Several of the photos illustrated what she described as “something we see on a daily basis in Sarasota County: Florida slash pines that were brutally pruned, pruned to detriment.”

A couple of other photos showed tree trimmers without proper safety equipment, as she noted.

A document that the Council provided to the commissioners for the June 7 meeting pointed out, “On average, 75 tree care workers die [each year] in the United States while trying to make their livelihood. This equals 1 to 2 deaths every week.”

That document explained that the first objective of the tree-trimming licensing program would be to reduce such fatalities in Sarasota County. Second, the document said, “[T]he proposed law seeks to improve the protection of tree care professionals, the quality of tree care provided to Florida tree owners and ensure that the professionals they hire have adequate insurance to protect all parties involved.”

A June 7 county staff memo, also provided in the commission’s agenda packet, explained that the Sarasota Tree Advisory Council (STAC) “has identified three focus areas for the upcoming year, one of which is associated with a recommendation to the [commission] that may require significant staff time and potential funding to implement”: the development of a licensing program.

These are slash pines that STAC Chair Amber Delehanty described as having been ‘brutalized.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County

That memo noted that the commissioners seated in July 2009 considered a similar STAC recommendation. “At that time,” the memo continued, “the STAC and County staff engaged in significant public input on the topic. The [commission] considered the public information and options on the subject, including new educational and regulatory programs. Based on various factors, included but not limited to the potential financial impact on local tree trimming businesses, the [commission] elected not to pursue further development of a tree trimming-focused program.”

However, the memo said, if the commissioners this time wished to explore development of such a program, staff recommended the following approach:

  • 1. “With Board policy guidance on this topic, assemble a more detailed analysis of targeted programming, which may be educational or regulatory. This analysis would include information about the County’s operational impacts, such as staffing and funding, associated with possible additional programs and implications for local businesses and property owners that may be subject to new programming or regulations.
  • 2. “Conduct as-needed focus groups with stakeholders, including tree care and landscaping businesses and property managers, based on Board guidance.
  • 3. “Provide a follow-up action plan summarized in a report to the Board. The date of the report will be determined based on the scope of the guidance provided by the Board today. Based on the scale of the effort, it may be incremental.
  • 4. “With additional analysis, the Board may elect to pursue code amendments, including outreach, authorization to advertise public hearing discussion(s) with the Board, and public hearing(s).”

Following Delehanty’s presentation, Chair Alan Maio won consensus from his colleagues in asking that she and her fellow STAC members meet with Matt Osterhoudt, director of the Planning and Development Services Department, and Rachel Herman, manager of the Environmental Protection Division, about the proposal. That division is part of Planning and Development.

Herman is the county liaison to the STAC, as Herman noted in introducing Delehanty to the commissioners on June 7.

“Absolutely. Thank you, sir,” Delehanty replied to Maio’s request on behalf of the commission.

These are proposed licensing requirements for tree trimmers, which the STAC included with its annual report to the commission this week. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A lack of awareness

This is an example of a tree that has been defoliated by trimming. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As for the slides Delehanty presented on May 7: Maio told her that he would put most of the blame on people who moved to the county from the North, who have had no experience with Florida tree species, including slash pines.

“I can pick on Northerners,” he added, as he himself had moved to the county from the North 38 years ago.

Many new residents do not understand, Maio continued, that if they cut off the tops of trees, that will not encourage new sprouts, no matter how much they water the trees.

Maio added, “People who trim trees work awfully darn hard in the heat, in the dirt.” Yet, many of them do not “know the rules,” he said. “Some of them do not even have rudimentary education about being an arborist.”

This is a photo of a palm that has been over-trimmed, as Amber Delehanty pointed out to the commissioners on June 7. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Correct,” Delehanty responded.

During her presentation, Delehanty also noted that the STAC’s other plans for the coming months are to promote native trees and wildlife habitat and to work on obtaining data on tree canopy coverage in the county.