by Colleen Suo
The purpose of a recent webinar hosted by Penn State and conducted by Richard Cervi, Consulting Arborist was to help professional arborists to assess their own qualifications in the important but potentially hazardous area tree risk assessment. According to the Certified Arborists’ Study Guide, 2010, tree risk assessment is the process of evaluating the likelihood that part or all of a tree will fail and cause damage or injury and is an important role in the management of urban trees.
Making an incorrect assessment cannot only be potentially hazardous in a physical sense for the tree owner but could have negative financial or legal ramifications for the professional arborist.
As a tree professional, you will be held to a higher “Duty of Care” than a layman. Your professional opinion will be trusted and acted upon by the tree owner.
The list of topics the arborist is expected to be knowledgeable or even an expert in—especially if you are ISA Certified—include tree biology, soil science, tree support and lightning protection, trees and construction and urban forestry to name a few.
It is important to keep up-to-date in all of the topics covered in order to receive certification. You need to consider the strength of your expertise in each topic covered in the Arborists’ Certification Study Guide. You should be confident enough to make appropriate recommendations that reflect a familiarity with ANSI Standards and associated Best Management Practice publications.
If you find yourself questioning your ability, you do have some options:

  • Decide not to venture into the realm of Tree Risk Assessment but refer these assignments to a vetted expert.
  • State the limits of your expertise clearly in your initial interview and make sure your client knows and accepts these limits prior to hiring you.
  • Collaborate with colleagues who have the expertise in these areas who can provide authoritative opinions that you can trust.

If you have decided that you are well equipped to venture into the tree risk assessment world, be sure you have the appropriate certifications, licenses and insurance. (ISA Certified Arborist, Municipal Specialist, Utility Specialist, Board Certified Master Arborist, TRAQ, Errors & Omissions Insurance, Occupational License and whatever professional license is required in your state)
On top of all of this, many states now require that you hold a PCO or Pesticide Applicators License before you can legally identify pests and diseases, make treatment recommendations or apply any treatment materials.
Remember, when rendering a professional opinion, there is always the potential for having to defend that opinion during a deposition or in court. Having credentials, licenses, certificates, insurance and a history of accurate assessments will increase your authority as an expert, minimizing your professional risk. Copies of applicable ANSI Standards and BMP’s should be readily available to you for quick reference at all times.
Cervi said, “In the world of consulting, it’s generally not what you do that becomes a point of contention—it’s what you don’t do that comes back to haunt you.” He continues, “If you’re not experienced in certain areas, make sure you know the limitations of your expertise. Protect yourself by limiting the kinds of work you do, by expanding your expertise into different areas, by collaboration with other experts or a combination of the three.”