Arborists: Unsung Heroes of SPR

Tree trimming is the most dangerous job in America, and this Arbor Day we want to recognize the expertise and bravery of Seattle Parks and Recreation’s (SPR) Tree Crew. The SPR Tree Crew is comprised of eight arborists (a.k.a. tree trimmers) who are tasked with demand and preventative maintenance of all SPR trees citywide, across 6,414 acres. Their work includes caring for healthy trees and responding to trees that are dead, diseased, or damaged.

Seattle Parks and Recreation Tree Crew Members

Our tree crew members routinely put themselves in harm’s way to intervene in dangerous tree crises. Since the start of 2018, the crew has logged 1,096 hours (no pun intended) responding to a total of 158 tree failures. They are some of Seattle’s unsung heroes, working behind the scenes to protect our community and environments.

The work of a tree trimmer is courageous, risky, and may surprise you. See below for a photo of one of our tree trimmers hard at work:

Don’t see him? We missed him at first too. Here’s the same photo with a circle showing arborist Chris Rippey in a cottonwood tree with failed roots. (You read that correctlyfailed roots.)

Chris Rippey is a third-generation, certified arborist. He also holds certifications as a municipal specialist and tree risk assessor through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and he currently sits on the Board of the PNW Chapter of the ISA. He has worked with Seattle Parks and Recreations for 3 years.

You may be wondering why Chris was so high up in a tree with failed roots. It turns out that this kind of work is not uncommon for arborists. When we asked Chris why he climbed the cottonwood, he explained that the tree had to be removed because its roots were failing. It was at risk of falling and destroying restoration efforts and land near the Burke Gilman Trail. The tree had to be removed from the top down, and because the crew did not have equipment high enough to reach the top, Chris climbed the tree. He did assure us that while the tree’s root system had begun to “lift up” at some point in the past, he had determined the tree was rooted firmly enough for him to climb it safely. Sure enough, Chris was able to safely and effectively complete his work in the pictured cottonwood.

When asked if he ever gets scared climbing trees, Chris replied:

I do get scared while climbing trees. It is dangerous work, and I am not that comfortable with heights. But this is how I have made my living for over 20 years. Not much goes through my head when working in trees other than making sure I am performing the work safely and effectively. I kind of zen out. I have been doing this work for so long that it relaxes me once I get up there and start working.

SPR Arborist Chris Rippey

Seattle Parks and Recreation is grateful to our incredible team of arborists who work hard each day to ensure healthy environments and safe neighborhoods. Happy Arbor Day.

Arborist point of view from the canopy of an old growth Douglas fir near Lincoln Park’s play area