The Safe Tree crew, with Ivan Fredette at right, taking a break from “the most dangerous land-based job in North America.” BRIAN GREEN

Company emphasizes keeping trees healthy and upright, with removal the last option

Far up in the 80-foot canopy of a Black Walnut, two orange-clad figures dangle from ropes, skillfully clambering into position to attach lines from an overhead crane to limbs as thick as a man’s waist. They cut through the limb with a chainsaw suspended from their equipment belt, and so precise is the placement of the crane that the severed limb does not move until the crane gently lifts it away. An operator on the ground uses a remote control panel fixed around his waist to swing the huge limb away and slowly lower it to the ground, where it is captured by a line and fed into a mammoth chipper that grinds it, trunk first, into mulch. To say that the operation is impressive is an understatement, as awe-struck spectators can attest from the safety of neighbouring lawns.

Ivan Fredette and his crew of ten trained arborists at Safe Tree specialize in “low-impact” tree removal. The giant Black Walnut was nestled in an urban backyard, a few metres from a house, and a driveway- width from a neighbour. Yet, the huge tree was deconstructed piece by piece and removed so precisely that there was virtually no evidence of the operation a day later. Part of the credit goes to a skillful and well-trained crew, says Fredette, and part to the state-of-the-art equipment they use.

Low-impact tree removal is only part of the service offered by Safe Tree. The company provides disease and pest control, trimming and pruning, stump removal, cabling and bracing, and even planting and tree health services.

For corporate and municipal clients they offer removal of threats to live power lines and clearing of brush and nuisance trees from rights of way. Formed in 2014 and based in Fenwick, Safe Tree covers the entire Niagara Peninsula, from Hamilton to The Falls, and numbers Lincoln, Grimsby, Welland, Port Colborne, and the Niagara Region among their municipal clients. The company recently removed about 2200 dead ash trees for the Region.

Branch, meet chipper. BRIAN GREEN

While the removal of challenging large trees is the most visible part of their business, Fredette emphasizes other aspects of their services, such as planting and tree health. In fact, he and his crew are reluctant to cut large healthy trees and have refused business when they feel there is no good reason to kill a healthy tree. He cites a developer who wanted an estimate on removing giant beech trees so he could construct several houses.

“Those trees should have had heritage designation,” he says and he refused the job. Of course, when he drove by later, the trees were gone.

“And the tragedy is that two years later, the houses have not been started.”

Another homeowner wanted maples cut down “because he said they were polluting by dropping their keys in his pool. I told him that was a small price to pay for air!”

In fact, Fredette tried to persuade the home owner of the large Black Walnut to keep the tree, but she was unable to maintain her yard and had experienced some danger from branches, so he finally agreed to remove the healthy tree. But his crew was back on the site three days after cutting down the walnut to plant new trees that would be more manageable.

With a 30” auger and knuckle-boom crane, Safe Tree can virtually plant a forest in a few days. Fredette says their equipment makes it possible for a crew to average a young tree in the ground, fertilized and mulched every 30 minutes. They emphasize native trees and avoid planting invasive species. even though “in this area we can grow almost anything.”

Another important part of their work is cabling and bracing to maintain and preserve historic or important trees. They use a unique system of cabling that allows the tree to flex and continue to grow, where some cable supports girdle the branch and can eventually kill it.

Fredette graduated from the Humber College Arboriculture Program, a two-year program with a one-year apprenticeship component. Upon graduation, he was hired by Humber to teach into the program and was an instructor for several years before leaving to work for Hydro One where he added the Utility Arborist qualification to his credentials, enabling him to work around power installations. A Jordan native whose family roots trace back to Oyle Road in Pelham, Fredette bought property in Pelham in 2014 and formed Safe Tree, first as a one-man operation. The company has now expanded to include an office staff and his ten-person crew, several of whom are also graduates of the Humber program, plus part-time workers.

The Safe Tree name comes from Fredette’s determination to focus on operating safely.

“We do the most dangerous land-based job in North America,” he points out, “and it is largely unregulated. You could buy a chain saw and a pickup truck and call yourself an arborist tomorrow. It’s the wild west.”

Fredette and Operations Manager Craig Hartwick “hire slowly and fire quickly” to maintain a crew that is committed and professional, “and they’re all good guys,” he maintains. Much of the training is done in-house and Safe Tree even offers external training for would-be arborists, with the towns of Grimsby and Lincoln using their services to teach chainsaw safety to municipal employees.

We do the most dangerous land-based job in North America, and it is largely unregulated

Fredette describes the Pelham Gypsy Moth spray program as “awesome,” but worries about the frequency of outbreaks of new infestations.

“Anything to disrupt the life cycle of these and other pests is important in controlling them.”

But there are so many threats to our trees, he points out, and cites the Comfort Maple as an example.

“That tree is now enduring a climate that it has never experienced before,” and he worries about its survival. With disease decimating Ontario’s population of elm and ash trees, and now threatening beeches, oaks and even maples, these are challenging times for anyone concerned about our forests.

His advice for homeowners concerned about the health of their trees: “Mulch! Mulching stops soil compaction, provides great nutrients, regulates the temperature and moisture of the soil, and even stops mechanical damage such as running into the trunk with your lawn mower.”

“Without trees we cannot live,” he says, and adds that trees are important not only for physical health, but also for our mental wellbeing.

“Next to the human brain, trees are the most complex organism on the planet. Their health is intricately connected to our health.”