THE TREE CLIMBER

New Zealand Logger - - Contents - Story: Hay­ley Lei­bowitz

Tree climb­ing is not among the skill sets that forestry log­gers need to hone in their line of work. A vis­it­ing tree climb­ing spe­cial­ist ex­plains some of the skills needed.

ICAN FIND REA­SONS TO LOOK FOR­WARD to climb­ing any tree, but if I had to spec­ify, the most grand, most beau­ti­ful and largest trees are my favourite,” says three-time cham­pion tree climber and third-gen­er­a­tion ar­borist, Mark Chisholm.

Vis­it­ing New Zealand to run safety work­shops for STIHL, Mark says he was ex­posed to tree care at a young age.

“My fa­ther was taught by his fa­ther,” he says. “I was im­me­di­ately at­tracted to the ca­ma­raderie of what I saw and how much every­one re­ally en­joyed be­ing on the job to­gether…the hard work and dif­fi­cul­ties you sur­vive be­ing part of a team and laugh­ing af­ter work.”

The fam­ily’s Aspen Tree Ex­pert Com­pany, based in New Jersey, has been around since Mark – now in his for­ties – was six years old and he says he couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter men­tor than his fa­ther. That and his phi­los­o­phy of al­ways re­main­ing a stu­dent are the two things he cred­its to his stay­ing power and suc­cess in the busi­ness and the com­pe­ti­tions.

It’s clear from chat­ting to him that Mark knows his stuff. What ini­tially drew him was learn­ing to climb.

“It is still prob­a­bly the foun­da­tion of why I love what I do,” says Mark.

“I’ve al­ways been at­tracted to be­ing in the trees and do­ing the ac­tual aerial work. I may be work­ing on a small street tree project to­day..…to­mor­row I could be do­ing some big crane re­moval and the next day I could be prun­ing a ma­jes­tic, sprawl­ing tree that’s been there 500 years and try­ing to pre­serve its life. I like a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing. It’s a pretty unique pro­fes­sion.”

Asked how he rec­on­ciles his love for trees with the in­evitabil­ity of cut­ting them down, he says it’s about up­hold­ing your values and in­tegrity as a tree lover, adding: “It’s not just about money.

“You need the right pur­pose, the right rea­son like the tree is dy­ing, haz­ardous or could hurt some­one.”

Mark be­lieves that’s true of log­ging too and says: “I think be­ing a log­ger in to­day’s world means you have to be a good stew­ard of the land.

“Most log­ging op­er­a­tions tend to be wise in that they’re not just re­mov­ing trees and not think­ing about how to re­plen­ish the for­est. I can def­i­nitely see that be­ing re­spon­si­ble is pretty easy nowa­days and I think what we get out of those re­sources is just an amaz­ing thing.

“I mean all the things that we do with the wood. I think it’s a lot bet­ter than de­vel­op­ing things out of plas­tics.”

Though he en­joys speed and agility events – pretty clear from the fact that he holds the world record in the 50-foot se­cured foot­lock climb­ing event, with a time of 13.8 sec­onds – Mark’s favourite event at the world cham­pi­onship is aerial res­cue. Clim­bers are given a sce­nario such as an elec­tric shock or a chain­saw ac­ci­dent and chal­lenged to come up with a plan to con­trol the area, make sure they’re safe, climb to the vic­tim, care for them and get them out of the tree safely, all within a four-to-seven-minute win­dow.

In terms of dan­gers that would face an ar­borist com­pared to a tree feller on the ground, Mark says ac­ci­dent stats in the US some­times pair the two to­gether and they’re al­ways in the top three (de­pend­ing how the fish­er­men off the coast of Alaska fare).

“When they sep­a­rate us out I find for the amount of peo­ple do­ing each pro­fes­sion, log­ging is a lit­tle more dan­ger­ous,” he adds.

Mark thinks that’s be­cause a lot of peo­ple miss the hid­den dan­gers. They fo­cus on chain­saw safety and proper cut­ting tech­niques but not as­pects like the ter­rain.

“Like some­thing that could hold a tree up and kick it a cer­tain way and you’re not pre­pared for that move­ment and you’re on a slip­pery slope for ex­am­ple,” he says.

“Or there’s a vine con­nected to the tree be­hind you and it pulls the top out in your es­cape route. All these things I don’t think tree clim­bers have to deal with. Tak­ing a chain­saw into the air has its own dan­gers, of course, but part of what keeps us safe is that ac­tu­ally it’s a pretty con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment if you fol­low the safety rec­om­men­da­tions.”

He adds that in log­ging there are so many things that in­flu­ence the safety en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing the ter­rain, the weather, the tree, the type of wood, how sound it is and whether it’s go­ing to split when you cut it.

Mark goes on: “And it’s not just like ar­borists who are cut­ting down some­times one tree all day. Fellers are go­ing out there and cut­ting down one tree af­ter an­other af­ter an­other af­ter an­other. So

Up he goes….Mark Chisholm takes his time with this climb, but he holds a world record for tree climb­ing.

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