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The Changing World of Arboriculture

Tree Permits

The 2019 Arboriculture Conference was held at the Alice Springs Convention Centre, situated at the foot of the MacDonnell Ranges. The event is organised by Arboriculture Australia, the national body representative, and this year saw 320 attendees from all facets of the industry. Local, national and international arborists from public, private and government sectors including researchers, consultants, contractors, nurserymen and landscape architects came together to the learn the latest from industry experts.

Like many industries, arboriculture is no longer male dominated; 43 female arborists joined proceedings – the largest number ever – with several taking part in the Australian Tree Climbing Championships preceding the conference. The winners will go on to represent Australia in the ISA International event next year.

Australian-tree climbing championships

Dr Denise Johnstone, one of 14 urban presenters at the conference, began her career over 20 years ago as a contract tree climber. These days, she frequently lectures in arboriculture and urban forestry and publishes most of her research work in urban forestry and arboriculture journals.

Urban foresters play a key role in keeping our cities greener and cooler using their expertise in data analysis and monitoring forest health metrics such as canopy mapping. As cities age and green-fill is lost to infill, retaining vegetation becomes critical. Trees are seen as assets and arborists are in high demand to care for them.

This is happening in Brisbane now where an individual can be slapped with a $63,000 fine for removing a tree illegally and a company $163,000; or remove a tree and replace 15 times the canopy area somewhere else. In many cases now plans won’t be approved until an arborist’s report is implemented. More meetings are held before work even starts, and as one arborist recently commented ‘the work is changing from writing reports to being a policeman!’

Not only has the type of arboriculture work changed but the tools and equipment have greatly improved, too. Visual representation is now a requirement for many clients and latest technology using cloud based systems is utilised more and more. Tree Plotter software allows clients to click on any tree and print out its exact location and management history.

Tree Plotter software allows for visual presentation

Arboriculture is becoming more professional all the time and operating a business becomes costly. For example, to out-kit three workers can cost as much as $250,000 – and that is without the vehicle. One of the more expensive items used is a Picus sonic tomograph (or tree ultrasound), which a sophisticated instrument used to assist in tree risk assessment. This non-invasive detection advice measures the speed of sound travelling across timber. Sound-waves travel at different speeds through decayed wood but if the wood is solid, the sound will be consistent; different colours indicate different degrees of decay.

The resistograph is another tool used to detect internal defects in a tree, though a little more invasive. A long thin needle is drilled into the wood, and as the micro drill enters the tree, the resistance of the wood changes the rotation speed of the drill. These variations are translated into a graph, which looks a lot like an EKG print out. The tiny drilling hole closes itself up without any damage to the tree. The tool can be used to determine decay in roof beams and wooden framed houses.

A Resistograph determines wood changes by drilling a fine needle

Arborists can even set up weather stations using tilt sensors to accurately measure a tree’s response to winds. Small electronic instruments record dynamic root plate movement, which assists in identifying trees that are stable or at risk of failure.

Such modern technology makes for interesting and enjoyable work for arborists in an ever-changing environment. Like many outdoor professions, there are always risks involved, and training packages contain a specific range of competency units and rules for completing a qualification. A review of qualifications was just one of the many information, discussions and panel sessions on the conference program this year. Next year the conference will be held at the Gold Coast. For more information visit

One of the highlights of the Alice Springs conference was the auction of this painting done live on stage by Aboriginal artist Tommy Crow, which raised over $5,500 to go towards education and trauma funds.

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