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Branches and trees everywhere

by: J. Brian Monihan, Trees and branches fell all over Lake Oswego during the recent snow and ice storm, such as this house buried in branches.

It was so pretty. Glistening snow everywhere. Children home from school, sledding. The smell of gingerbread cookies. Board games being put to good use. Yes, once home safely, the largest storm since 1968 was cozy from inside the house.

And then, snap!

A large tree branch lands on the gutter, or worse - a power line or car. Storm damage can be seen across Lake Oswego and West Linn. Some trees blocked roadways. Some branches split in half. Just like the inches of snow, tree limbs also fell from the sky last week, causing damage to neighborhoods across both cities.

And Morton Tree and Landscape Maintenance in West Linn has been busy cleaning up the mess.

But as property owners have an impulse to get debris cleaned up quickly, the tree maintenance company suggests taking a step back to first assess the storm damage, call the appropriate professionals and make sure all precautions are taken so no further damage can occur if another storm hits.

Kittie Williams, office manager at Morton, suggests these simple rules for determining a triage for your trees:

- Take pictures: 'Taking pictures is essential. It's for documentation and insurance. A lot of times insurance won't cover the clean-up unless there's structural damage. We're not in the insurance business, but it's good to document (the damage). Also, if tree permits are needed you already have pictures.'

- Avoid 'widow makers': 'It's an old term from logging. It refers to snags that might be 80 to 100 feet up in a fir tree. If you've got a branch that's just hanging there by a few threads, it can fall. In the olden days they termed these 'widow makers' because a branch would fall down and knock a logger in the head, making his wife a widow. We'll have our climbers go up and lower these (with rope) so they don't fall on other landscape and structures. Some branches can be 20 or 30 feet long.'

- Clear power lines: 'If you see a branch that's laying on a power line or pole, contact the power company because they need to come out and clear those lines. Once they clear them a certain distance we can come in and do the remainder of the pruning and whatever else is needed.'

- Look for branches on or near roadways, walkways: 'Look for leaning, unstable trees. Look for debris that's blocking drainage. With the weight of the snow and ice - and if the tree had shallow roots or was on an embankment - it can start leaning.'

- Look for branches near windows: 'These aren't breaking windows yet, but they could. We had a customer call because (a branch) was inches away (from the window) and if the wind picked up it could have broken the window. If you have a tree service company come out, they'll prune (the tree) correctly, balance the tree and make sure everything is safe.'

- Look for debris on other landscape and shrubs: 'If a branch falls on a prized ornamental you want to clear that away so it's not further compromised. The plant could die because it's packed down. It's a good idea to get those (removed) as soon as possible. You might want to do a corrective pruning on them to make them look better.'

- Contact insurance company: 'Verify your coverage and contact a reputable licensed and bonded landscape service company. It's essential that they are licensed and bonded because the homeowner can get into trouble if someone gets hurt on their property.'

- Clear branches on or near roadways: 'There were leaning trees over the roadway in Lake Oswego. Some people had branches in their driveway and couldn't get out. And (branches) were so low cars couldn't go under them. Call for help.'

- Take a second walk-through: 'When everything is said and done (after the storm passes) have a 'tree person' come out again and do a walk-through and look for anything that might be compromised. Then a tree can be cabled. You can get an arborist involved to see if you need a permit for future removal.'

- Contact licensed and bonded landscape company: 'You want someone that knows what they're doing, (someone) that's familiar with the various tree species and shrubs and how to properly prune them. Also, what if someone got hurt on your property? You might be held liable. You want someone that has insurance and is reputable and knows what they're doing. Our crews are all safety trained. We have OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) training for them. They know CPR and know how to properly work around power lines, even though the power company would have cleared those branches away, they are cognizant of all the dangers. The company itself is insured.'

Williams said that now that the snow has melted, her crews that addressed urgent safety problems during the storm are revisiting sites and also cleaning up less threatening locations.

'We do a lot of ongoing pruning and maintenance in the summer. The winter is for emergency work,' Williams said. 'It's important to prune trees to 'sail,' meaning that the wind goes through them, rather than blows them sideways.'

Morton Tree has been in business since 1979 and started in Lake Oswego before relocating to West Linn, Williams said.

And Williams said this recent storm reminded her of why she enjoys attending work each day.

'What stands out to me is the teamwork of our associates. We carpooled to get in. We figured out which jobs should be attacked first,' Williams said of their storm coverage. 'I appreciate the attitude of everyone. Everyone was in such great spirits.'

It was the holidays after all.

To contact Morton Tree and Landscape Maintenance, call 503-636-7902 or visit www.mortontree.com/ .