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Treefall a real possibility

Large, older species are often most in danger of suddenly toppling

From the rugged coast to the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon is known for its ample natural resources — not the least of which are its sprawling old-growth forests and towering trees. The tallest known examples of no less than 28 tree species find their home right here in the Beaver State, according to Oregon Parks and Recreation officials.

A walk through the Oregon white pine- and Douglas fir-lined streets of many of Forest Grove’s older residential neighborhoods is enough to show that local residents are proud of this part of their state’s heritage — though really, the town’s name itself provides ample evidence of that fact.

But trees — tall and majestic though they may be — are not always without downsides, the most obvious being their potential to lose branches or topple altogether during particularly fierce storms — occasionally causing damage to nearby homes or personal property in the process. And the larger and older ones, which are often the most highly prized by those who love trees, may also be the ones most in danger.

A Forest Grove resident found that out just a couple weeks ago when a large maple tree in his yard had to be felled by a local tree service. The tree’s condition was first noticed by Old Town resident Ellen Fiscus, who regularly walks her dog along Hawthorne Street and said she “noticed a deep vertical crack in the tree starting at the base.”

She notified the property owner of the situation via email and it was subsequently taken down. Fiscus, who hadn’t noticed the crack previously, said she presumed it had opened up during a recent storm.

By having the tree preemptively felled, the homeowner avoided a potentially more problematic situation experienced by the Forest Grove United Church of Christ in March 2012, when two giant white oaks toppled without warning.

For many locals, it raises the question of if their trees may be similarly in danger. But David Hunter, a certified arborist in Forest Grove, said the answer of whether a tree needs to be pruned or even brought down is not always obvious.

“Not everything has to be pruned,” he said. “It depends on the size of tree, the placement in the yard and what the owner’s vision is. Some people love trees and some people don’t like trees at all and want to get them out of their yard.”

Signs of a problematic tree can be cracks in the trunk or in the surrounding soil (which may indicate weakened roots), bulges or seams in the bark, large cavities, fungal growth and reduced leaves or budding. However, some of these can also be a normal part of a healthy tree’s life cycle, which is why getting a professional opinion should be considered. (Local pines, cedars and sequoias, for example, shed their needles every few years. To the untrained eye, Hunter said, these trees may appear as if they’re “dying,” when they are, in fact, perfectly fine.)

He shared a recent story of a client who asked him to provide his opinion on a property he was considering buying. The prospective home buyer thought for sure that the large oak beside the house was a hazard, but Hunter told him it wasn’t.

“Not every tree is a bad tree,” he said. “That tree was providing that client some great air conditioning, shade and even protection from smaller branches above it.”

On the other hand, large trees growing out of hand can crack or otherwise disrupt a house’s foundation with its root system, and smaller trees can become troublesome if their branches are close enough to the house that they’re providing access to squirrels and other pests.

“I like trees, but your home is your investment,” Hunter said. “I always recommend, if people are looking at buying a house, spend the dollars to have a consultation. You have a home inspector; I think you should also have a tree inspector.”

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