During a hot summer day in the heart of Austin, Daniel Finch ’14 paces atop a massive hill of excavated earth, discussing project logistics with coworkers on his cellphone. To his right, the Capitol’s dome peeks just above the city’s skyline. After ending his cellphone conversation, Finch, who graduated from SFA with a Bachelor of Science in forestry, turns and apologizes for the interruption.
“This is about 90 percent of my day,” he said, motioning to his cellphone with a laugh.
Considering the sheer size and number of projects that await him, it’s not at all surprising that a visit to Finch’s work site is punctuated with emails, texts and phone calls troubleshooting project logistics and outlining last-minute decisions.
When excavating and moving centuriesold trees weighing more than half-a-million pounds, there is no room for error.
While the rumble of heavy equipment in the middle of one of Texas’ fastest-growing cities may not elicit images of the archetypal lumberjack, it does highlight a somewhat new career path for forestry graduates — one that encompasses far more than growing and harvesting trees — urban forestry.
A growing body of scholarly research indicates trees, especially in an urbanized environment, provide myriad environmental, economic and social benefits. Because of this, cities large and small are increasingly working to conserve and create green spaces.
The City of Austin, for example, maintains a tree protection ordinance that conserves tree species of varying sizes. In order to remove trees that fall under the “protected” or “heritage” tree categories, developers and homeowners must obtain approval from the city. Finch explained if the tree or trees are approved for removal, new trees must be planted to mitigate for the total square footage lost. He said in many cases, it often is simpler for the developer to relocate the tree or trees.
While trees can be moved to completely different locations across a city, Finch said the trees he moves are typically relocated on the same property.
“Depending on the size of the tree, as well as the location, it can take years of planning to move it to a different location,” Finch said. “Just think, all of the power lines have to be re-routed, and there has to be a crew at every stoplight to direct traffic.”
While working for Environmental Tree and Design on job sites in Austin, Finch often moves massive trees of varying species. He explained that by using hydraulic bags and beams placed underneath each tree’s root ball, stress can be reduced on the root systems as compared to that incurred through the traditional use of cranes.
“When cranes pick up the tree it will convex the root ball, causing the roots to separate,” Finch said. “However, through using hydraulic bags and beams, we can move the tree from point A to point B horizontally.”
Pointing to one of the live oaks, he estimated it would take two hours to move the tree 60 feet.
It is a slow and arduous process, and even after a tree is transplanted, Finch’s role is not finished. He continues to monitor each tree for months to help ensure its health. “In general, we have a 95-percent survival and success rate with the trees we move,” Finch said.
This success rate includes one of his favorite projects that took place in Michigan. He said a 400-yearold bur oak was wedged between two buildings. Initially, the move seemed like an impossible task.
However, after much troubleshooting, Finch and the crew employed yet another innovative technique to transport the tree to its new location.
“We literally raised the tree 10 to 12 feet to move it across a plaza,” he said. “Really, each project is fun. They’re all different, and each comes with its own challenges and unique qualities.”