PICK-UP BANDITS: Calls For Tree Service Licensing

A Des Moines woman’s battle with a tree service has lasted months as she waits for the owner to pay for the damage caused by the shoddy work.

“It sounds like they had no idea how to fell a tree,” says Skip Moore, commenting on the video of a tree crashing onto the woman’s shed causing $2,000 damage.

Rick Hanson, the owner of Family Tree Care, doesn’t have much good to say about it either.

“Unprofessional, very unprofessional.”

But that hasn’t stopped Patrick Williams, the owner of Family Tree Service, from getting work.

“It seems like when the storms come everybody with a pick-up and a chain saw is out trying to make a buck,” says Hanson.

Hanson is sick of people confusing his business with Williams’ company.

“A number of people have called and cancelled service thinking some of the shoddy work out there is us.”

While the names are similar, Hanson says the two companies are nothing alike.  Hanson takes pride in his company’s standards.  He employes a certified arborist, his staff receives yearly training and he’s insured, which is more important than you might think.

“If somebody gets hurt on your property that doesn’t have insurance it may go back against you.  You might be held liable,” says Hanson.

Des Moines City Councilman, Skip Moore, the former Municipal Arborist has stories to back that up.  He says about 20-years ago, an uninsured tree worker fell out of a tree, fractured his pelvis and the homeowner ended up paying the worker’s medical bills.

“He sued them and won.”

Moore says the industry has a name for people like that.

“We call them pick-up bandits.  People who grab a chainsaw get a truck and they go out and they say they’re a tree expert and they’re not, and currently there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Pick-up bandits are also capitalizing on the threat of the emerald ash borer, an insect that destroys ash trees.

“We’ve been hearing horror stories of them treating trees for emerald ashborer, but it’s not an ash tree.  It’s a maple,” says Moore.

Unskilled workers can also spread disease.

“A lot of tree people like to use these to ascend trees and move around trees,” says Moore holding up a pair of climbing irons.  “If they’re climbing a tree that’s got oak wilt, removing it or pruning it and then they go to another tree using these, they will transmit oak wilt to the next tree.”

These are just a few of the reasons Moore wants tree service companies in Des Moines to be licensed.

“It protects the residents of the city.  And it may not just protect you because you’re hiring someone, it protects your neighbor from it also.”

Dozens of city’s already require tree service companies to be licensed.  In Denver, applicants must pass a written and field test.  In Chicago, they must provide proof of liability insurance worth $1 million.  And in Minneapolis, a tree service must provide proof it employes a certified arborist.

Opponents of licensing argue enforcing the code will cost too much.  They also say it will drive up the cost of tree work.

Moore doesn’t think you can put a price tag on safety.

“Cheap isn’t good and good isn’t cheap.”


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