This week I got a timely email following a conversation with a Maplewoodian still reeling from Irene’s aftermath when it comes to fallen trees. Her main concerns? That some folks don’t want to deal with the cost of maintaining trees and have a “wait until it falls and then insurance will have to pay for it” attitude. Below are additional excerpts from her email:
What is people’s recourse when they see their neighbors tree dead or near dead tree?
What steps should be taken notify to the neighbor that the tree is a hazard?
How do people identify that there is a potential hazard?
Who is responsible when a neighbor’s tree crashes down on your property?
If the neighbor was notified, does it become his liability?
What recourse does the property owner have when the tree belongs to the Town or the Board of Ed? (Tuscan has a dead tree in the playground. Two neighbors have made notification and nothing has been done.)
To topple such trying tree turmoil I turned to , Maplewood’s Supervisor on Parks and Shade Tree and New Jersey Certified tree expert # 225 (The state started certifying tree care professionals in 1940 and only about 550 certifications have been issued since that time.) As you can imagine, Mr. Lamm’s more than a bit busy thanks to , but he graciously took some from his tight schedule to talk trees.
Right off the bat Mr. Lamm says the ‘wait ‘til it falls’ approach to tree maintenance is short sighted at best, not only because insurance policies differ widely in what they will cover in terms of damage, but also because it’s downright dangerous: “Depending upon the storm or situation you really can’t tell which way a tree's going to fall,” he cautions.
He also says the powers of observation can come in handy when looking for tree troubles. “There are certain signs, like bark peeling, sawdust accumulation – which would signify carpenter ants – or dieback about the crown or sides of the tree,” he explains. Still, because there are also more subtle signs that can also signal serious trouble, Lamm believes your best bet is to turn to a trained professional.
“Credentials are really important here,” he advises. “I’d recommend using a N.J. certified arborist or a member of the International Society of Arborist.” Otherwise, you won’t necessarily get the peace of mind you think you’re purchasing.
When it comes to a neighbor’s tree, unless you’ve established a record of your specific concerns about a specific tree BEFORE an actual incident occurs you are most likely stuck with the tab if it comes crashing down during a storm. Doing so could prevent a dangerous situation, but will also ensure you’ll be insured should an accident occur:
“I’d always lean towards being a friendly neighbor first and mention the problem to the person directly,” suggests Lamm. “If that doesn’t work I would send them a certified letter. Should the situation persist, I’d follow up with another one from a certified arborist. That way you’re covered legally if that tree causes damage to your property.”
The same advice holds true for your tree issue, though you should be addressing your concerns directly to the BOE, not the town. According to the Township site: ‘Trees located in parks, public rights of way, and in most cases within ten feet of the curb, are maintained by the Shade Tree Division….Hazardous trees and dead trees are also removed by the Shade Tree Division.’ You can call the Department of Public Works at 973-762-1175 with specific questions or concerns.
You should know that while Lamm does his best to respond quickly, Irene’s still cramping his schedule. “We’re usually out within 24 hours to check on complaints,” he says. “Then we prioritize accordingly, though we’re so backlogged right now that routine pruning is on the backburner.”
Good news is that you should see fewer fallen trees on town roads soon. “We’re going through section by section for removal,” promises Lamm. As for what will become of all that branch and bark? “It goes into a tub grinder and is made into mulch for town parks and residential use.”
How very fitting and green, no?
Thank you for the email and I hope this has helped a bit. Please keep Patch posted as to your progress with that school tree and your paper trail!