Love and Loss in Tree City USA


2007 Toyota RAV 4 under a northern red oak trunk. (Photos by Emma Hand)

Falls Church Times Staff

Neighbors always notice, and thankfully so for Bob Hand and Erika Schlager.  It was a recent Friday at 11 a.m. when Hand received a phone call in his Capitol Hill office from a neighbor who was peering out the window at Falls Church City first responders gathering in front of the Hand-Schlager house on Seaton Lane.

Hand returned home within the hour to find one of the neighborhood canopy trees on his property, a northern red oak, lying down the length of the driveway and across Seaton Lane.  The tree had fallen almost perpendicular to the street, missing his house, but crushing one of the family cars and a Japanese maple growing at the front of the property.

“You have to accept the fact that with large trees, there are some risks,” Hand said.  ”It also has to be an accepted reality that a tree dying may not necessarily be visible from the exterior.”

Conscientious environmental stewards, Hand and Schlager installed a 1,100 gallon cistern in 2002 that captures rainwater runoff from their roof and have had their trees evaluated by an arborist over the years.   The red oak in particular had a natural lean, so they kept an eye on its health.

“It did not lean the way it fell and the roots of the tree didn’t budge an inch,” Hand explained.  ”It was rot inside the trunk; it could not take the weight of the tree.  None of this was visible from the outside.”

The Falls Church City Arborist, Jeremy Edwards, stated that the City’s urban forestry division does not keep statistical data on trees removed from private property.  They do, however, provide a number of recommendations for homeowners looking to hire tree care professionals.

The City’s website makes it clear that “owning a truck and a chain saw does not automatically qualify someone as a tree care professional.”  Homeowners are advised to screen businesses for those who have been certified through an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) program and are licensed tree contractors in the City of Falls Church.  There is also a tree removal permit the property owner must obtain from the city.  Permit fees are $50 per tree to be removed on residential property and $100 per tree on commercial property.  Links to City recommendations and guidance are here.

Hand’s recommendation is to hire an arborist who will provide a diagnosis and possible courses of action versus someone with a trained crew in tow ready to immediately begin cutting and removal.  “One finds wildly varying descriptions of what needs to be done,” Hand cautioned.

Preparations begin for the removal of the fallen red oak from the Hand-Schlager home on Seaton Lane.

Falls Church City has maintained a Tree City USA designation for at least 31 years, longer than any other municipal entity in Virginia.  The Tree City USA program is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.  The City qualifies because it has an urban forestry program overseen by a professional arborist, has an annual forestry work plan implemented by a tree care ordinance, funds the program through the annual budget, and organizes an Arbor Day observance.

Reflecting on his recent ordeal, Hand found it interesting how many people commented on the loss of the Japanese maple that was obliterated under the weight of the red oak.  “It didn’t bother me.  I prefer native trees and it was not native but was evidently noticed by the entire neighborhood.”

Hand emphasizes the importance of taking very good care of trees.  “I don’t regret the loss of the car.  The loss of the tree is the greatest loss.  I can replace the car, I can replace the tree, but I won’t have another tree like that in my lifetime.”

  • PrintFriendly
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo Mail
  • Delicious
  • AIM
  • Share/Bookmark

By Scott Taylor
November 8, 2009 


3 Responses to “Love and Loss in Tree City USA”

  1. Dudley McDonald, Mechanicsville, VA on November 9th, 2009 7:07 am

    Trees are a renewable resource. Other than the property damage, no big deal.
    Hopefully, the property was insured against catastrophic loss.

  2. Nancy Childs on November 9th, 2009 11:24 pm

    Shocking Picture…Lucky I wasn’t walking by when it fell I could have been killed.

  3. Charlie Anderson on November 9th, 2009 11:50 pm

    Dudley, I disagree completely. Trees are much more than a resource. A tree on a small property like in Falls Church can be a member of the family – where your children had a swing, where you sat and read under its shade. They also are important because they suck up gallons of water everyday that would otherwise be runoff in our streams. They shade the houses and neighborhood. They offer a place for animals and preserve habitats.

Feel free to leave a comment. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your FULL NAME and CITY. All comments are subject to editing for courtesy and content.

Subscribe without commenting