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Talking about… trees
Breaking down the risks and the remedies
Arborist Shem Kendrick started working in the tree care business with his father in Florida. He recently started his own company, Coastal Arbor Care.
Karen Jenkins of the Savannah Tree Foundation advocates for our world-renowned urban forest.
Karen Jenkins of the Savannah Tree Foundation advocates for our world-renowned urban forest.

TREE CARE expert Shem Kendrick arrives at the scene of the amputation.

Clad in climbing boots, chainsaw-resistant pants, a climbing harness, a safety lanyard and ear, eye and skull protection, he ties a rope on a live oak, 70 feet tall and 150 feet around.

He then scurries up and swings from the branches like Batman.

“It comes with several years of practice,” Kendrick says of his flying skills.

Bounding to a sick limb, he reaches for his chainsaw and vroom!

“It has some kick to it,” he says.

The crack and the thud come quickly.

Now this big mama tree’s discolored, crumbly and diseased branch no longer looms over one Southside homeowner’s bad dreams.

Kendrick, a tree surgeon for six years, recently started Coastal Arbor Care to further his tree doctoring passion. And from the looks of it, the licensed arborist has no shortage of potential business.

Savannah’s leafier neighborhoods are rife with nightmare oaks and Freddy Krueger pines just waiting for a good wind to knock them into a legal and insurance horror film.

To understand the problem better, I ride around with Karen Jenkins of the Savannah Tree Foundation.

“This big oak in this person’s front yard has some big limbs that probably could use some pruning,” she says as we drive through Mayfair. “In fact, there’s a limb on the ground.”

Mr. Needs Work On Meadowbrook doesn’t have a City of Savannah problem. The offending aerial hazards are clearly on private property.

“If you own it, you have to take care of it,” she says.

But a lot of people can’t afford it. Have you priced tree maintenance lately?

Kendrick comes (as all good arborists should) with expensive education and insurance.

“It’s not as straightforward as it seems,” he says of his work.

Some trees are pricey games of Operation with the red buzzer being a dead tree worker. So Jenkins is on a mission to get financial help for local residents with dangerous trees.

“There seems to be a lot of help programs for homeowners in our community but none for trees,” she says.

Local officials here will help you with your leaky toilets, lead paint removal, energy efficiency improvements, rental property repairs and tax preparation.

But a punk limb as wide as a tire over your bedroom? Maybe. In theory. Just the answer you want before you sleep!

“It is possible that help could be available through the year-round minor home repair program,” says city spokeswoman Saja Aures. “Tree removal isn’t at all the focus of this program. But it’s possible in an extreme situation that the program would assist with a tree hazard.”

I’d like to see somebody test the Housing Department. Because a quick web search reveals a few more specific state and municipal programs elsewhere.

And the “extreme situations” here are real.

Driving through Liberty City and Cuyler-Brownsville, Jenkins points out trees that need 911, not 311.

“There’s a huge cavity on the other side,” she says of a dead oak leaning toward two houses on 40th Street. “They can call and at least get a quote.”

And so the only good news here actually comes from Kendrick.

“A lot of times people might have it in their minds that they have to take down a tree that really is of no hazard,” he says. “I hate removing trees that don’t need to be removed.”

Some trees only need a trim. Only a licensed arborist is going to know the difference. So call an expert.

Verify the arborist’s credentials through the International Society of Arboriculture. And insist on cutting only what’s needed.