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<keith>
posted
I'm posting this mostly just because I'd like to see more activity on this forum. I don't think ethics come up often enough in any area of most peoples' lives.

So, here's an issue I eventually dealt with by starting my own company. While employed by a smallish company (4-6 climbers, ground man, crew superviser, company owner), I sometimes came to work to find we were doing work I considered unethical. Either we were to "drop crotch" trees for view enhancement, or we were removing half of a tree's living canopy to reduce leaf litter in a swimming pool, or we were destroying the best tree in a new subdivision so there would be room for a 2-story house there (even though the rest of the block could have accommodated a 2-story without hurting any tree significantly).

I never relished this work, but I understood that my employer had to sell a lot of jobs to keep us all busy. Also, our lame attempts at drop crotching for views were still probably better than some other company that might just top them and call it a day. In short, I figured if the crummy work had to be done, better me than someone who didn't know a branch collar from a shirt collar.

When I could, I pruned another tree and let someone else do the dirty work, but that did little to assuage my guilt. I often considered a blatant refusal to do some job or another, but th closest I came was calling in sick when I knew such jobs were coming up. In the end, I considered this the price I paid to get to do good, quality work most of the time.

So, how have others dealt with these issues? I know some have had to choose between far worse jobs than these or not working for the day, so I'm curious to hear your comments.

Keith
 
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<Guy Meilleur>
posted
Reply to post by Keith, on November 30, 2001 at 10:44:58:

Keith, how some people deal with philosophical differences with their companies is starting their own companies. It doesn't work for everyone, though, and it does not mean ethical conflicts will not still happen.

Personally I've cut 50% foliage to reduce litter and slept well, knowing that species and timing allow rules to be bent. I've drop-crotched previously topped white pines(!) for view and still respected myself in the morning, especially if I can sell windowing for view elsewhere.

Cutting down the best tree in a neighborhood can be atoned for by planting ten good ones, or by selling maintenance on others so they get that good someday. The ethically obsessed can stop selling "removal" altogether--and sell "replacement" instead. It's amazing how customers like that idea--it assuages their guilt, too.
Then's the time to sell the annual maintenance plan--for the health of the trees and the health of your business.
Guy
 
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<Scott Cullen>
posted
Reply to post by Guy Meilleur, on November 30, 2001 at 10:44:58:

Well, this gets pretty complex.

First of all you have to separate personal values and preferences from standard practices and from some percieved "ethic" which may be shared by others but in excess of standard.

It is interesting if you look at the ISA Code of Ethics... I think safety and serice to the public come before "duty to the trees for their own sake."

There is a difference between a company that routinely does crummy, substandard work on each and every job because they do not know any better and don't care to and the occassional tree that gets "over pruned" or something similar. If the alternative is tree removal maybe that trees reduced life serves a purpose. Trees having a "dignified death" whatever that may mean to different people may be a nice philosophy but, but can ay of us impose it on others?

If there is a sub-division then there is an approved plan which went through public hearings and met publically approved regulations. What is approved is ethically approved by that community. Maybe taking down that one tree saved acres of conservation area someplace else in the subdivision. Maybe not. Some subdivisions by the time you get done with building footprints, set backs, sight lines, utilities, drainage etc. can tolerate no existing trees at all.. period. Sad. But people have ethical rights to housing too. And if the community wanted those trees they could have purchased the land for open space. And the trees will be bult of wood. was it ethical to cut those trees?

I think we might consider overall practice... we try to maximize the contribution of trees to our environment. But it is by definition a peopled environment. So a tree has an optimal lifespan for its setting and its owner. If the owner's needs and uses lead to an optimal life shorter than what is technically possible, is it unethical for you to do the work? Or do you it as best you can? If the owner knows "drop-crotching this treee 50% will mean it's only got 20 years left" isn't that OK? If you don't tell the owner that the sun-scald is likely to make bracnhes hazardous in 3 years that does not sound OK.

OK, now really want to twist it around? Take a look at an affluent neighborhood, where they get 6 PHC visits a year. Annual fertilizing. Pruning 1/3 the trees each year and then start over again. Are those trees really doing any better than the trees in middle class neighborhood (where the teachers and the plumbers and firefighters live) where nobody does any tree care... except maybe if there's a peanut butter and jelly beetle infestation one year or there's some storm damage. In truth, probably not. So is it ethical to sell tree care at all? Are those annual mainetnance plans a scam? Are we caring for trees or caring for people and their sensibilities?
 
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<Guy Meilleur>
posted
Reply to post by Scott Cullen, on November 30, 2001 at 22:35:43:

Scott wrote "I think safety and service to the public come before 'duty to the trees for their own sake'". Per his advice I looked at the ISA Code of Ethics. Nowhere is "service to the public" mentioned.
[In ASCA's Ethics, 5.3 says "Members have a Fiduciary Duty to act in the best interest of their Clients or Employers...NOTE: (this) duty ...shall not be construed to require or allow conduct which is not in the Public Interest or which compromises a Member's Independence, Integrity or Objectivity."
So ASCA too doesn't hold members to do what they know is not right, to "serve the public."

After all, most arborists are private contractors, not public employees whose obligations are also to the public whose tax dollars pay them. Private arborists choose their customers, and vice versa. "Service to the (general) public" isn't their job, outside of the following:

The third section reads "ISA members will...Hold paramount the safety and health of all people and endeavor to protect property and the environment..." This in my mind most definitely includes "duty to the trees for their own sake." People's safety and health is dependent on trees to provide clean air and water and other requirements for life.

Our duty is to "protect property and the environment". Trees are property and they are the most valuable elements of our environment. So we DO have a "duty to trees for their own sake" to stay in line with the ISA Code and because we and our customers need them for all of our sakes.

Scott wrote "we try to maximize the contribution trees make to the environment. {Right! We agree!} But it is by definition a peopled environment." Half Right! Before it could be a peopled environment, it was a treed environment. Trees came first and made the environment suitable for the creation/evolution of Homo sapiens. Considering "an owner's needs and uses" as the sole, or even primary, determinant of what happens to a tree, without considering the "contribution trees make to the environment", would not be sapient, and would violate the ISA Code of Ethics.

"Promoting technical information" to "protect property and the environment" means to me "advocate for maximizing the tree's contribution". That means performing services that are best "for the tree's own sake". If the customers can't be persuaded to do the right thing, the arborist has the option to respectfully refer them to the Yellow Pages.

I think this is closer to the issue Keith was talking about. One last note is on Scott's musing whether trees that got "6 PHC visits a year" were better off than those "where nobody does tree care" ..."In truth, probably not"
Huh?
If this were so, we wouldn't have a profession. In 37 years' work I've seen a lot of trees lose out to neglect and abuse, and relatively few lose out to malpractice. The ideal of "letting nature take its course" with trees ignores the fact that we, too, are part of nature. We change the trees' environment for the worse, but we have the science and the sapience to change things for the better. It's our duty to care for trees, as they need it to adapt to conditions people impose on them.
Well that's how it looks from here anyway.
 
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<Scott>
posted
Reply to post by Guy Meilleur, on December 03, 2001 at 08:05:24:

I went back and re-read the ISA Code. "Hold paramount the safety and health of all people and endeavor to protect property and the environment in the performance of professional responsibilities."

Safety comes first and I don't think anybody would argue with that. The point I was trying to make is that the Code does not explicitly put trees first... it does not say the ethical arborist must convince the homeowner to move out so the rotten tree can remain... as an absurd extreme. Certainly the ethical arborist will avoid damaging practices and "endeavor" to use the best ones. But to me "endeavor" means you try to do the best you can as often as you can. I think that leaves room, to ethically do things that are less than ideal for the tree, but are an alternative to removal and are clearly above shoddy, sub-standard practices.

Any individual can certainly have higher personal standards and walk away from any job they find distasteful. But I think the interesting thing in Keith's post was that there are many arborists... maybe all of us some of the time... who wrestle with what is ethical and what is not. Can I really do this? Will I be violating my industry code? Will others think I'm a hacker?

I can't remember if it's a concept from theology or philospohy or maybe even ethics, but there is a concept called the "over-scrupulous conscience." The person who takes on more guilt than is appropriate. I look at the ISA code and I look at real world practice and I see that we can ethically do work that may be less than ideal but is within the range of standard practice. I think it is perfectly appropriate for any individual to consider that in developing their own personal standrads of practice.

It has struck me in recent years that the trees in those middle class neighborhoods that don't get tended all the time aren't dying or declining at a faster rate than the trees in the affluent neighborhoods that always have a tree-truck in somebody's driveway. The trees may look more tended on the latter properties, they may have been pruned of dead branches. But you did that for the people looking at them more than for the trees. That's why we have an industry, becasue people like being tended.

Certainly, in many situations proper practices can improve tree performance... prevent decline or untimely death. But in lots of places in the peopled environment the trees do just fine without us.
 
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<keith>
posted
Reply to post by Scott, on December 03, 2001 at 23:13:56:

Interesting points, guys. Scott's oint about the PHC trees is valid, I think, because it draws a distinction between following the letter of the guidlines and doing what is best for the tree. Yes, we are technically "allowed" to take 1/3 of the canopy when we prune, but every arborist I know would say this is an extreme case, and should not be repeated each time the tree is pruned. In other words, if I take 1/3 of a tree tomorrow, I should leave it alone except for dead wood and diseased/broken branches for a period of time (probably at least a year or two, depending on the tree) to allow the tree to recover from this extreme practice.

As for safety versus tree needs, I never intended to suggest we should leave a dangerous tree in a high-traffic area. To expand on my earlier example, say a client has a pool. There are trees all over the lot, including one that extends over the pool. The client says s/he wants it cut back so leaves won't drop in the pool. The absurdity of this notion is obvious, I think: even if we remove the tree, the other, nearby trees will drop leaves that will inevitably blow into tthe pool. Do we take half the tree off just to make the client happy? I'm not inclined to do it, but I can see the argument that at least some of the tree remains. Still, won't the client assume that there is a way to keep leaves out of the pool now, and keep having us back to carve away at it till it's nothing? By telling them up front this is an impossible task, we may encourage them to take the whole tree, but tehy might realize the futility and spend their money on a pool service instead. When a reputable arborist does whatever is asked, the tacit implication is that this is okay, and they should continue doing it whenever they feel like it.

Keith
 
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<James Causton>
posted
Reply to post by Keith, on December 04, 2001 at 06:18:11:

So here we are, a bunch of seemingly highly qualified arborists who have been trained and hopefully, have gained considerable skills and knowledge in respect of "the well being" of trees. Why, I would ask, are we turning this thing so heavily toward the well being of people?
Not one of us was issued with any kind of warranty or guarantee at birth with respect to our "life expectancy", yet many of us seem to feel that we should be offered some kind of immunity to apparent natural events. We move ouselves into the forest and demand some kind of immunity from the forest's reaction to our invasion! We create the problems and then hold the forests and the trees liable for those actions. I don't believe there was ever a tree which acted maliciously toward anyone of us, can we say the same of our behaviour toward them??
Our training and education, in my opinion, should be tree oriented first, with our intrusions onto them and our interactions with them coming second.
Do I value the life of a tree higher than the life of a person??
I don't know, I am not a doctor.
As far as dealing with tree related work which seems un-ethical, the shortest answer is always the easiest, one consonant, one vowel = NO, and walk away from it.
Please, before you send me any acrid replies, make sure you read what I thought I wrote,

Thanks, James.
 
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<Guy Meilleur>
posted
Reply to post by James Causton, on December 04, 2001 at 12:49:05:

I absolutely agree with James' "tree-oriented first" approach. Our service is not to "the public" first; our focus is best kept on the trees first and their interaction with humans second.
This carries to valuation too. Trees' contribution to a livable environment for humans is worth considering. Even if humans are not right next to them, they are affected by them.

Scott's point about untended trees often growing well sounds more like a testament to "the right tree in the right place without the wrong injury", rather than saying tending trees is an extraneous service. I'll continue to sell annual PHC. Tending trees is overall good for them, if done as knowledgably and ethically as possible.

On Scott's point about the overactive conscience, I can only say better overactive than underactive. It's good to know people like Keith agonize over doing the right thing, in this industry where too many don't care.
 
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<Scott>
posted
Reply to post by Guy Meilleur, on December 04, 2001 at 21:50:12:

I think we are all on the same track. There is no excuse for doing shoddy work which negatively impacts trees just becasue you don't care or don't know any better.

But James hits on the essential point. Don't do what seems unethical, just walk away. But what is ethical and what is not? Every individual has the right to decide for themselves what they believe and what they will and will not do. And that standard may be higher than the responsible industry or community norm. So we must distinguish what is unethical by general consensus, what is outside informed, standard practice, and on the other hand what is unethical by a personal standard.

And I think lots of thinking caring arborists just want to be sure they are in tune with that generally accepted standard. That standard must accept a range of practice and that range will sometimes lean more towards human needs than tree needs.

Trees may or may not do better with lots of care. Some certainly need it. Lots certainly don't. Just as each individual has to decide if the will ever drop crotch a tree becasue the client wants it or if it is always evil to do so, each individual has to decide just how ethical it is to sell services that really may be more discretionary than necessary. At one extreme it's just selling for selling's sake (really no different than charging by the amount of brush you create). At the other extreme maybe you couldn't stay in business to provide the services you know how to provide. And somewhere in the middle, the bigger range I'd guess is a practice that caters as much to people's needs and sensibilities as the trees'.

Valuation is a very complex thing. At one extreme trees are private property and only the owner decides value. On the other all trees are public goods and the "owner" has no rights. We deal with both and with everything in between. Truth be told if you put value in monetary terms, individual trees have higher value in relation to people and their needs than they do in an ecosystem. That's because the "margin" is different. The marginal value of one tree in a forest is pretty small. The marginal value of one tree in YOUR yard may be pretty big.

I think the point is that hard and fast ethical rules may not stand up. That is NOT to say that everything is relative or that situations create the rules... taken to the extrem that means no rules. That's way societies develop shared ethics or belief systems. Most everybody believes murder or child abuse is wrong. Most everybody believes stealing is wrong. We share those values. Some people believe peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are evil. Is that a widely shared belief? I've stated an absurd case. The point is while we can have our individual beliefs as an industry we have to look to shared beliefs. And the shared beliefs allow a range of practice which may not be quite so considerate of trees as of people.

"Right tree in the right place" BTW can get really abused. What is the right place? Well if the utility company wants a new facilty there it's the wrong place for a big tree. So who wins the people or the tree? People decide. RTRP can just be an platitude to serve human interests. So there is a constant balancing act keeping trees in human environments. IMO good practice MUST acknowledge the human component.

Let me repeat I am NOT advocating or justifying shoddy, sub-standard, ill-informed practice.
 
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<James Causton>
posted
Reply to post by Scott, on December 05, 2001 at 09:23:36:

OK. So realizing that fundamentally we are all in agreement in respect of shoddy work and our individual interpretations of how we can best serve trees and people, let us move this to a slightly different area. There is currently a message under "general arboriculture" from a gentleman who wants to know how to defoliate trees. This information is to be used in a research project which hopefully could yield very valuable information to all of us. I could offer him some suggestions regarding achieving his goals yet have personal reservations about doing same. To me, ethically it would be wrong to deliberately inflict damage on a tree, even though I could possibly do a greater good in the long run by utilizing the results of his research in the future. So now here I am, exceedingly ethical and even more hypocritical!!!
Win some, lose some I guess,

James.
 
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<Scott>
posted
Reply to post by James Causton, on December 05, 2001 at 12:20:05:

Well, that's the dilemma isn't it? What is ethical? Nobody can tell you what you feel. So if you don't like defoliating a tree you don't do it and you don't help do it.

But is it wrong for somebody else to do it? Only the greenest of the green, the deepest of the deep ecologists would say so. If the goal is is to increase understanding and improve practice maybe it's OK. Is it any different than killing a tree to make timber? Let's assume we're talking about responsible, sustainable, managed forestry.

Turn on the tube. I'm sure, really sure the Taliban were all sure that beating women for reading or working to support their children was highly ethical. What does the world think? What do you think? The point is we all need to test our personal beliefs against some general measure, some societal wisdom. And we have to beware that the general measure we look to has not been distorted... as the Talban seem to have distorted Islam. Do trees have rights? I don't know, some people think so. Are trees part of the world ecosystem, essential to our own survival. Well of course. Can we utilize trees without destroiyng the world ecosystem? I think so. If people are part of the ecosystem are their rights at least as valid as any other element's rights? I would think so. So if our practice is generally aimed at preserving trees within our human environment can we remove some or let the standard vary a little to fit human needs without becoming unethical? I think so. Do you have to like it or do it yourself? No... if you're self employed or willing to walk off the job and not put food on the table for your kids. So that other guy with a boss and kids to feed who does good work grits his teeth and drop crotches a tree to create a view because the client wants to do that rather than remove the tree so the trunk continues to screen the power plant. Is he an unethical bad guy?
 
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<Guy Meilleur>
posted
Reply to post by Scott, on December 05, 2001 at 23:16:09:

Scott makes good points about the responsible management of trees for human benefit. Since we have brains we are empowered to use them.
I think though even shallow ecologists can say some management is wrong when they see it and when they can make a case that it is. That of course doesn't give them a right to stop it, but a rational discussion can only increase understanding and benefit both parties.

On drop-crotching for views, this arborist deals with the ethical issues of probable sunscald damage and loss of wildlife habitat simultaneously by placing some of the branches
criss-cross in the newly exposed crotches for nesting sites.
As the foliage gradually falls, the bark gradually gets accustomed to the sunlight. The cut branches can also be placed at a level to add screen value.

Some customers say it's too unsightly and won't allow it, but many buy the concept as a reasonable compromise between competing values. It's easy for them to be ethical when the benefits to them are made very clear.
 
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<JPS>
posted
Reply to post by Guy Meilleur, on December 06, 2001 at 06:29:25:

I had to skim the previouse posts. All that in two days!

This being a service industry there will always be a polarity in good concientose arboriculture.

The tree advocate and the skilled property manager. Most of us fall in between.

The Advocati Di'Arbor will walk away form jobs that he cannot convince the prospective client to do "right".

The Property Manager will try to convince the client to compromise, then still bid the job if he cannot.

Many practitioners cannot justify refusing work that another will take if a person wants to treat their property in a certain way.

I fall in the middle, I've done some things that I found distastefull, and walked from jobs that were just butchery. I try to be a speaker for the trees, but in the end i sometimes need the money.
 
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