TREES provide social, communal, environmental and economic benefits to their surroundings.
But they are sometimes unfairly blamed for causing damage to property and even fatalities.
When that happens, the authorities or tree owners are held accountable and pressured to prevent such incidents in the future.
More often than not, these trees are felled.
This worrying trend is of concern to the Malaysian Society of Arborist (PArM) who feel a new approach is needed.
International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified board master arborist Prof Dr William M. Fountain was invited to talk about a training programme supported by PArM to weigh the risk of tree failures against the consequences of chopping them down.
Weighing the risks
“Many trees are felled unnecessarily as most arborists are only trained on visual tree assessment.
“If the trend continues, a lot of trees will be removed and there will be no more tree failures.
“However, temperatures will go up and so will the number of people with respiratory issues.
“We want to put the risks into perspective and this is something the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) does.
“For example, if a tree has a defect, the arborist will look at the likely target should the tree fail.
“If the target is a utility line, they will look at the magnitude of the possible disruption, whether it will affect the neighbourhood or a larger area.
“We cannot predict the time and date of failure but we can give a qualitative assessment by giving a rating ranging from extremely high risk to extremely low risk to decide if it is appropriate to remove a particular tree,” said Prof Fountain.
He added that while the benefits of trees were aplenty, it was not easy to prove.
“When tragedy strikes and human life is lost, it is easy to point the finger at the local authorities or arborists maintaining the tree.
“However, it is difficult to determine the number of people who have survived because of a tree.
“For example, research shows that patients who have undergone surgery recover faster and need less pain medication if their rooms have a view of trees.
“Old mature trees offer a lot more benefits than younger trees.
“A lot of trees are being felled needlessly.
“We want to let trees live as long as they do not cause undue risk. We need to rid ourselves of the fear of tree fall.
“Road accidents kill more people than tree failures but that does not mean we should get rid of vehicles.
“So, once the risk is assessed, the client or owner of the tree can make a better decision.
“In the event that a tree failed and killed somebody, the arborist in charge can explain why the tree was retained incourt, if need be,” said Prof Fountain who is from the Horticulture Department, University of Kentucky in the United States.
PArM president Dr Ahmad Ainuddin Nuruddin said out of 108 arborists in the country, only two were TRAQ certified.
“We want more people to get TRAQ certification.
“We are looking at conducting the training by the end of this year and hope for a good turnout.
“Tree owners can set their risk thresholds and decide if they want to keep the trees or not.
“Although it is not compulsory, I hope the government will send their arborists for TRAQ certification,” he said.
Saving the trees
PArM vice-president Rosslan Yaacob said there were many trees posing potential risks in the city.
During a drive with StarMetro around Kuala Lumpur, Rosslan pointed out that almost every mature tree was at risk of failure.
He said they were keeping close tabs on some trees especially along stretches with incidents of tree failure like Jalan Raja Chulan.
“The Forestry Department is monitoring the trees along this stretch.
“Bad maintenance and expansion of infrastructure has contributed to the instability of trees.
“There is a lion tailed tree which has a long and slender limb with a puff of leaves at the end, much like a lion’s tail.
“This tree has a risk of its branches breaking with strong winds.
“Many trees also have open wounds and poor crown resulting from bad pruning methods.
“Open wounds increase the risk of trees being infected by fungus and poor crown causes weak branches.
“There are also many trees with roots above ground which is also a cause for concern.
“There is a mature raintree in Jalan Sultan Ismail which has defects.
“Although there is a risk of tree failure, the owner has decided to keep the tree for its aesthetic as well as other benefits.
“These trees also add to the green building index points of the structure it fronts.
“I hope there is more awareness on the need to protect and care for trees especially the mature ones.
“Arboriculture is still new in Malaysia.
“A lot of mistakes have been done in the past with tree management but we are slowly trying to make things right,” said Rosslan.