Arborists want to protect wildlife, but guidance and information is lacking in many regions.

Baby hummingbirds in nest. Photo by Peggy Honda

By Amber Graves Alvares, Registered Consulting Arborist and member of the Tree Care for Birds and other Wildlife Committee, Western Chapter International Society of Arboriculture

How do arborists feel about environmental policies and protections for wildlife? What are their experiences with wildlife in the field? In a peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Urban Ecology,  Alexander Martin and Andrew Almas attempted to address these and other questions with an international survey of 805 arborists. The survey asked a wide range of questions about arborists’ perspectives and experiences with wildlife and the policies and practices that protect wildlife during tree care operations.  Some of their responses were surprising. 

The survey is of particular interest to the Tree Care for Birds and Other Wildlife Committee, which is part of the International Society of Arboriculture Western Chapter (WCISA). Our committee has written best management practices and provides training to arborists about protecting wildlife. Some highlights from the survey are:

  • 92% of arborists reported that their pre-work inspections involved looking for wildlife.
  • 90% of arborists supported new wildlife best management practices.
  • 78% of arborists reported having clients who told them that they did not want tree care operations to impact wildlife.
  • 77% of arborists already knew that there were legal protections for wildlife.

These points help show the importance of the work that Tree Care for Birds has been doing since 2015. Our Wildlife Best Management Practices (BMP) describe a standardized method and guidelines for performing pre-work inspections which consider habitat value and time of year and recommend appropriate levels of training to conduct work around wildlife. We have trained hundreds of arborists throughout the Western and Pacific Northwest Chapters on how to perform pre-work inspections, when to pro-actively involve wildlife biologists, and how to respond when accidents occur.

Raccoon in coast live oak. Photo by Amber Graves Alvares.

Our 2023 edition of the BMP is most relevant to states within the range of the WCISA (CA, AZ, NV and HI). For other regions, what should arborists consider the breeding season? What are locally relevant laws, and which species are endangered? Many questions remain for arborists to minimize their impact on wildlife.

The article also highlights some of these challenges:

  • 60% of surveyed arborists reported being involved in incidents where wildlife was injured or killed.
  • 58% of arborists felt that current industry standards were ineffective or did not know how effective they were in protecting wildlife.

It was disheartening to see that most arborists have been involved in wildlife injuries. Perhaps this is not surprising considering the number of arborists that thought current industry standards were not effectively protecting wildlife. Despite most arborists reporting that their pre-work site inspection should include looking for wildlife, it appears that no information was collected regarding how extensive the pre-work surveys were, how consistently they were performed, or if they received any training regarding the wildlife they were supposed to be looking for. Hopefully, as knowledge spreads about the Wildlife BMPs and more arborists are trained, the next generation of arborists will report lower numbers of wildlife injuries over time.

Our BMP is not the only publication that considers wildlife safety during tree care operations. Newer versions of other American National Standards Institute and International Society of Arboriculture BMPs reference wildlife. The Pruning Standard lists managing wildlife habitat as a pruning objective and the Pruning BMPs list signs of wildlife nesting as something to inspect for prior to pruning. However, we wonder if that’s enough. What other steps can we take to reduce wildlife injury and fatality during tree care operations?

In addition, wildlife fatalities and impacts occur worldwide. While adaptation to an international scale may seem challenging, the general concepts in the current BMP, when combined with specific knowledge from local experts, could lead to a more effective set of BMPs to protect wildlife around the world. Local experts in various parts of the world can be engaged to develop methodical inspection standards and scalable training, provide knowledge of breeding seasons, and define valuable habitat. We agree with Alex and Andrew that “[g]iven the support of arborists for increased wildlife protection policies, we recommend the development of international wildlife-focused BMPs for arboriculture.”

Red-tailed hawk nest in eucalyptus tree. Photo by Peggy Honda

The Tree Care for Birds team is interested in assisting any chapter with the process of adapting our Best Management Practices to their region. Our original process involved: identifying local experts, evaluating what was generally applicable and what was regionally specific, writing appendices for each state in the Western Chapter, and delivering training in each of those areas. We are confident that any chapter can do the same, and we are here to help.

3 Comments on “Arborists want to protect wildlife, but guidance and information is lacking in many regions.”

  1. Any arborists in San Francisco, Daly City, or South San Francisco who take care niot to disturb humming bird nests?

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