For the past three days, scores of tree-trimming crews working for TXU have been patrolling my neighborhood in the White Rock/Casa Linda area, cutting trees back from the power lines. I understand that this is necessary. But to my untrained eye, these guys seem to be cutting way more than is strictly necessary. Parts of the neighborhood look like hell now. So I asked someone with a trained eye about it, one of my neighbors who is a landscape architect. As it turns out, these tree guys ARE sloppy. And they’re from Iowa. Here’s what my neighbor tells me:
1. Time of year. This is the peak season for transmission of oak wilt, a very infectious and almost invariably fatal disease of many oak species. Oak wilt is spread by insects attracted to open wounds on live trees and by contaminated pruning equipment, among other ways. Wright Tree Service is supposed to sterilize tools between trees and say they are doing so, but I doubt it. They are also supposed to paint wounds on all oaks (paint is a barrier to infection). This they are doing, when someone is watching them. I know of at least one instance where they did not do so and were caught by the homeowner.
2. General pruning technique. Accepted techniques include “drop-crotch” pruning, which Wright does some of the time. Trees are not supposed to be topped or cut so they have extensive areas of bare trunk suddenly exposed to summer sun, which causes bark scald — think of a tree with sunburn. You can see examples of both in the neighborhood.
3. Frequency of pruning. Trees should be pruned lightly and frequently. A realistic cycle of power-line maintenance pruning is once every 3 to 4 years. Oncor/TXU/Luminant typically waits 10 to 15 years between maintenance pruning. Waiting this long necessitates the extreme cut-back we see. If trees are pruned more frequently and with more skill, they can recover better and can retain a natural, attractive shape while still being safe. It also avoids the shock and trauma to the owners of the trees. Of course, frequent pruning is somewhat more expensive, cutting into the obscene profits of TXU. But I digress.
4. Use of out-of-state contractors. Poorly trained, temporary workers from Iowa do not understand conditions in Texas and do not know our tree species and their requirements or diseases. Local arborists would be better informed, and the considerable sums of money involved would stay in the community. Local arborists also would be much better suited to the frequent, light pruning that is safer for trees. Out-of-state contractors are used partly for economic reasons, and partly because they have no business interest in doing a good job, only a cheap one. Would you select Wright Tree Service to prune your trees after seeing their work? They have no interest in establishing or maintaining a good reputation in North Texas. They are mercenaries.
I spoke with Wright’s division supervisor, Jim Bingaman, and Oncor/TXU’s arborist for this work, Scott Lee. I specifically asked Mr. Lee who we should contact at Oncor/TXU to discuss tree pruning policies, and he said he didn’t know.
I, too, have tried to contact TXU. So far I haven’t heard back from them. But here’s what I’d like to know: why the hell is TXU using a Iowa company to do this work? Is the same outfit used when TXU trims trees in, say, Highland Park? The guys from Texas Pacific and KKR are promising to make TXU a greener company if the sale goes through. Does that include trimming trees in a more responsible fashion?