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Tree law 'victory' to some

June 12, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A new Maryland law will require tree-removal businesses to have state licenses.

Two people in the industry said the law, which takes effect on Oct. 1, closes a loophole.

For many years, the state has required licenses for businesses that care for and preserve trees, but not for businesses that remove trees, said George Pogue, the general manager of Cumberland Valley Tree Service.

Pogue - whose company is based in Pennsylvania, but works extensively in Maryland - said the new law is a "victory" for legitimate, licensed businesses competing with those that aren't.

Rocky Trolio of Alleghany Tree Lawn and Landscape in Fairplay said unlicensed companies that don't have liability insurance or workers' compensation insurance could underbid him for contracts by 40 percent to 50 percent "and still make twice the amount."

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Trolio and Pogue already are licensed, so the new law won't affect their work directly.

But both say industry changes could result.

Trolio said the tree-removal law could "drastically lower insurance claims," leading to lower insurance costs.

Pogue said cracking down on unlicensed businesses will dispel the image of tree businesses as shady.

"We're struggling and struggling for respectability," he said.

In the Tri-State area, Maryland stands alone in regulating tree-service businesses.

Neither Pennsylvania nor West Virginia requires businesses to have licenses specific to tree work.

Environmental officials in both states said they recommend another guideline for the public to consider: certification by the International Society of Arboriculture.

"That's kind of the standard that we push," said Bob Hannah, an urban forestry coordinator with the West Virginia Division of Forestry in Fairmont, W.Va.

The International Society of Arboriculture, which is based in Champaign, Ill., is a worldwide professional organization. It certifies members who meet proficiency standards.

Paul Foster of Gaithersburg, Md., the treasurer and past president of the society's mid-Atlantic chapter, called the certification exam "rigorous."

To pass the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' license exam, applicants must get a score of at least 70 on a test of written questions and tree identification, DNR's Web site says.

Maryland has regulated the tree business for about 60 years. But the tree removal license requirement is new.

"It's not a law to prevent tradesmen from practicing," Foster said. "It's a law to protect consumers."

If a company doesn't have property damage or personal injury insurance coverage, the owner of the property, who has hired the company, could be held liable through his or her own insurance, Foster said.

Maryland requires license applicants to have a related college education plus a year of experience with a licensed tree expert. Those without college backgrounds still may qualify with five years of experience under a licensed tree expert.

Applicants also must carry liability and property damage insurance.

Licenses must be renewed each year, DNR's Web site says.

The Web site lists licenses by county, business and person at http://dnrweb.dnr.state.md.us/forests/oflists/lte/treeexpert.html.

In Washington County, eight people at seven businesses are listed, including Trolio. However, in a random sample of tree businesses in the phone directory, others said they, too, are licensed.

Pogue and his company are listed at the Web site, but only by name and company. The site does not allow a search for Franklin County, Pa., businesses registered in Maryland.

Actually, six Cumberland Valley Tree Service employees have licenses. Many tree-care businesses have no more than one licensed employee, according to Pogue.

About 80 percent of Cumberland Valley Tree Service's 40 employees have a degree in a tree-related field, he said.

Trolio said Maryland does a good job of overseeing tree-business licenses.

Still, about half of the companies that operate in Washington County are unlicensed, Trolio and Pogue each estimated.

"There's many more fish to be caught," Pogue said.

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