Here at Forest Metrix have a unique perspective on the roll-out of TRAQ. Our program is the only one we know of currently that has all of the TRAQ data fields integrated into an electronic system that manages TRAQ records and automates calculations. This means that as we customize the TRAQ system for each arborist, we see how people are using it. It has become clear that our users have different comfort levels, largely based on their own levels of experience with risk conditions – something TRAQ training really does not address.
Some observations from our customization work:
1) Some arborists who have never done risk assessment before sign up for TRAQ thinking that it will teach them all they need to know to do risk assessments. In fact, they find that it provides a very solid methodology for considering risks and potential remnant risks after mitigation, but it does not provide them with decades of experience and a comprehensive knowledge about specific structural conditions. A few people have contacted us with the initial impression that they can press some buttons on an iPad and wind up with a risk assessment report. Of course real life doesn’t work this way. A risk assessment still relies on the breadth of knowledge and experience of the arborist.
2) Risk assessments remain a big growth area (65 percent in 2015 said it was growing in their region), and most arborists are not employing TRAQ, even when qualified to do so. The TRAQ system brings with it a great deal of documentation and notation, and this takes quite a bit more time than the average “windshield survey.” That time is a big investment for clients to pay for, so many arborists find they are providing lower initial visual surveys, with TRAQ applied to those trees with greatest need for documentation. On the other hand, we are finding that people using UFM sometimes will use an abbreviated form of TRAQ just to get a quick risk condition rating for trees, so that those ratings can appear on the tree maps. These quicky maps are not represented as TRAQ surveys, but merely employ UFM’s calculation automation and quick map creation features.
3) Where risk assessments get squirrely is at the end, after the risk conditions are assessed. The theoretical mitigation steps and their theoretical effects can lead to multiple dimensions of possibilities, and this is both difficult to report and a potential liability if the arborist is not conservative in estimating the effects of mitigation.
4) We have found that municipal clients – and some other institutional clients – are highly influenced by their states’ legal precedents, which can be quite different from place to place. This can radically affect whether they think it’s a good idea to be collecting tree liability data. And legal environment is shifting due to new cases that contradict previous case law. Towns in Connecticut, for instance, were reluctant to collect a lot of data on trees that they might not have time or resources to tend to, for fear that this very knowledge would give them a stricter liability for any damage stemming from those trees. A new decision – effectively holding a town liable for having not collected information – has made this a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, where towns appear more likely to collect information, hiring more arborists. Just over the border to the north, Massachusetts towns have always been more biased to collecting data, as their legal precedents have been a bit different.
In general, it seems that the expectation for institutions is that they are proactively looking at risk conditions in their trees, which probably increases the institutions’ liability generally. But that liability can be mitigated by prioritizing tree work with risk conditions assessments; and those assessments can be made more efficient by doing low-level assessments first and choosing intelligently from that data the trees that bear deeper examination.