What is a Certified Arborist? What do They Do?

Just like people, trees need care. Homeowners, towns, and cities are responsible for the trees on their property and may need to intervene from time to time for the health and safety of trees and the public alike.

As tree work requires specialist knowledge and can be dangerous, it’s always best to consult an arborist.

You’ll often see references to certified arborists, but just what is a certified arborist?

What is a Certified Arborist?

The answer is a little tricky. Technically speaking, a certified arborist is simply an arborist who has been certified by a professional organization. However, a Certified Arborist®, actually an ISA Certified Arborist®, is an individual who has gained certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

To gain ISA certification, individuals must demonstrate relevant study and practical competency, and pass the ISA’s exam. Members must also continue their study after certification to endure that their skills remain up-to-date and relevant.

However, ISA certification is not the only measure of an arborist’s skill or level of qualifications nor is it the only certifying body. In the UK, for example, it’s possible to obtain certification from the Royal Forestry Society. Other countries have other certification schemes and certifying organizations.

What Qualifications Does an Arborist Have?

The qualifications an arborist — also called a tree surgeon — has will vary depending on the country in question. The ISA provides an internationally recognized certification, however there are many other ways in which an arborist can prove qualifications.

It’s important here to note the difference between certified and qualified. Certified means that an individual has been awarded certification from a professional body like the ISA. Qualified means that someone is qualified – has learned and mastered all of the required skills — to do a job. It’s possible to be qualified without being certified, but it’s not possible to be certified without being qualified. At least, it shouldn’t be!

While ISA certification does require that members participate in ongoing study to keep their certification current, other awards of competency may require more study in the initial phase.

While shorter courses may be available, it’s possible to do a several-year diploma course or a full bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in arboricultural disciplines. That would result in qualification, but would only equal certification if a graduate decided to apply for ISA membership and take the ISA’s exam or to acquire certification from another professional body.

Tree expert cutting tree using a chainsaw
Photo by jcomp at Freepik

There are also opportunities for arborist apprenticeships which may qualify someone for a diploma or certification.

If you plan to hire an arborist, the best thing to do is to research whatever training, qualifications, or certifications your chosen professional has. Membership to professional organizations like the ISA is not mandatory, and it’s quite possible to find someone who is extremely qualified, but not certified. Or Certified!

If you’d like to be an arborist, research the relevant trainings and qualifications in your area or country and contact your local forestry department or woodland conservation charity for guidance.

What Does an Arborist Do?

Arborists and tree surgeons look after trees. From maintenance to advice to emergency intervention, an arborist can help you to give your trees whatever attention they need. There are a few areas in which arborists are particularly helpful. An arborist can …

Help in Tree Emergencies

Perhaps your tree has had a branch cracked by a storm or high winds, another tree has fallen on it, or it’s suffered another type of traumatic event. It may even have been uprooted. An arborist will  be able to determine and carry out the best course of action to save the tree and make it safe if possible, or to remove it if there’s no way to rescue it.

Prune Trees

Although it’s best not to prune trees unless you absolutely have to, sometimes you absolutely have to! While it might be possible for tree owners to carry out minor pruning jobs themselves, for anything major or any sort of urgent tree care, it’s wise to call an arborist. As a professional, a certified arborist will know how best to prune your particular tree to facilitate its quick recovery and future health.

Aborist working to prune the top of a tree
Photo by Hans Linde at Pixabay

Plant Trees

If you’re considering planting a tree, or even multiple trees, you can ask an arborist to advise you on the best trees for your climate, soil type, and specific location. You can also hire an arborist to plant trees for you; this can be extremely helpful if you have a lot of trees to plant or, for whatever reason, you can’t do all of the required digging.

Keep Trees Healthy

A certified arborist can conduct any maintenance your tree(s) might require and help you to deal with pests, issues arising from inclement weather, or any other tree-related help you need. Arborists can also install branch supports for trees whose limbs need bracing.

Remove Trees

Sometimes, it’s not possible to save a tree from damage or illness. An invasion by pests or a parasitic infection could necessitate the removal of a tree to prevent the spread of the infection or because the tree has become a hazard.

A severely damaged tree may become structurally unstable and pose a danger to buildings and passers-by. Trees that have died may fall or drop limbs, causing damage or injury. You may also need to remove a tree if it’s in the way of building works or interfering with utility pipes or cables.

A certified arborist can assess the situation and decide the best course of action. If the tree really must be removed, an arborist will be able to do the necessary work safely and with as little disturbance to the area as possible.

How Dangerous is Being an Arborist?

Working with trees, especially trees that might be damaged or unstable, is dangerous. Arborists are regularly high up off the ground, so falling is an ever-present risk. And not only do arborists and tree surgeons have to face the risk of falling, but there’s also the possibility that a tree or heavy limb might fall on or near them.

They also use heavy tools as part of their everyday jobs and are often required to have certification in chainsaw use along with their other credentials. Even handsaws and cutters can cause serious injury especially when used in dangerous or unpredictable situations.

Arborists and tree surgeons may work near to power lines (which are sometimes hidden in tree branches) or buildings. They may be called out to work in high winds or storms, although if the situation is too dangerous, it might be necessary to wait until things calm down.

Fortunately, a qualified (or certified) arborist will understand trees, from biology to physics. Arborists know how to use their tools safely, and they know when it’s safe to work and when it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that the danger is eliminated; being a tree surgeon can be a hazardous career. However it does mean that an arborist is definitely the best person for the job, and can take care of trees as safely as possible.

What is the Difference Between an Arborist and a Forester?

Forester working in the forest
Photo by Marek Matecki at Pixabay

Finally, you might wonder how (and if) a forester is different than an arborist. Whereas an arborist looks after individual trees, a forester, as the name implies, looks after entire forests. Foresters manage the ecological conservation and restoration of woodland, and they supervise protected areas. They are also responsible for overseeing timber harvesting and subsequent replanting of replacement trees.

Similar to arborists, foresters have a variety of options open to them for how they obtain their qualifications, but the path usually involves a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a combination of a diploma and a top-up degree. As you might expect, there’s a considerable amount of overlap between forestry and arboriculture.

If Your Trees Need Attention

If you have a tree or even a forest in need of assistance, don’t hesitate to seek out your local arborist or forester. Whether certified or not, a qualified arborist can help you to care for your trees and address problems, sometimes before they begin.

And if you love trees and woodlands, consider a career in arboriculture or forestry yourself!

Photo by MET Jeong at Pixabay

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