- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tree pruners in the National Arboretum made way Tuesday for an exhibition, of sorts, next month — international tree climbers.

For the first time, the District will host the International Tree Climbing Championship presented by Davey Tree, a horticultural services company, at the arboretum July 28-30. At the same time, the International Society of Arboriculture holds its first conference and trade show in the nation’s capital since 1965.

Members of the of the society’s mid-Atlantic chapter pruned dead wood from arboretum trees Tuesday in preparation for the 60 contestants registered from 13 different countries.

Sonia Garth, public relations and marketing manager for the society, said the District was chosen because it can accommodate the logistical needs of the conference and competition while remaining accessible to the public.

“And it was the National Arboretum, and we bring in an international audience, so it’s a chance for us to showcase the arboretum,” she said.

Ms. Garth estimated that about 2,000 people will attend the conference and trade show while 500 to 1,000 will attend the competition. The competition and the accompanying arbor fair and expo will be open to the public and will include educational activities.

The international competition includes the winners of regional competitions. Andrew Dunavant and Jocelyn Lohse will represent the local chapter, which includes the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

The competition comprises five events: work climb, belayed speed climb, secured footlock, throwline and aerial rescue.

Time is a factor but so is technique, said Rob Springer, safety and training coordinator for Bartlett Tree Experts and the local chapter representative to the climbing championship committee.

“It is probably the best event for tree climbers because a lot of the new techniques that come out every year, they’re kind of brought to everybody’s attention at these events, where we bring people in from all around the world,” Mr. Springer said. “It’s a fun event. It’s a family event.”

Ms. Garth said the society’s more than 50 chapters and associate organizations represent 32 countries. The U.S. and Canada combined account for half of the chapters, and the society is based in Champaign, Illinois.

The local chapter has two former international climbing champions — James Earhart (2015) and Mike Cotter (1998). Both helped with Tuesday’s pruning. Mr. Earhart is the only American to win the men’s division since 2009.

Pointing to an arborist using a rope and harness to “walk” up a tree, Mr. Springer said professionals have years of experience and use protective equipment. They also know how to make proper cuts for climbing and can assess the health of the tree.

“You got to know how to climb a tree, how to move around in a tree, and then you also got to understand what to do once you’re in the tree,” he said.

Mr. Springer advised against homeowners pruning trees themselves.

“After a major storm goes through, everybody’s got a chainsaw and wants to get out there and get involved, and generally, your hospitals, they’re prepared,” Mr. Springer said. “They know they’re going to see a higher frequency of chainsaw cuts.”

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