For arborists, danger just part of the job

Some people may question a day job that requires standing at the edge of a steep hillside while grasping onto a growling chain saw.
But that’s just a day at the office for San Francisco’s arborists.

On Wednesday, three veteran arborists with the Department of Public Works appeared unfazed as they cut into trees that had grown awkwardly out of an acacia tree stump on a daunting Telegraph Hill slope.

Their courageous balancing act helped quash neighborhood fears that the weight of the dangling trees would cause erosion or a damaging landslide, said Carla Short, an urban forester for Public Works.

Trees are known to stabilize hillsides, but the sprouted stump beneath Alta Street had created a unique problem, she said.

“The suckers had gotten so big that we were afraid the whole thing might come down,” Short said.

But the difficult-to-reach hillside was of little concern to the arborists, who have each been in the business more than 20 years.

One arborist balanced at the cliff’s edge, cutting into the trees with a chain saw and fastening ropes around them. The other end of the rope was attached to a Public Works truck, which when put into reverse pulled the trees up from the hillside and onto Alta Street.

Public Works has 10 full-time arborists who are responsible for maintaining 40,000 trees that grow from public rights of way in San Francisco, Short said. Property owners are responsible for about 68,000 trees, she said.

Not all jobs require a fearful balancing act, but arborists don’t seem to mind the periodic thrills of the job.

“A guy that’s afraid of heights does not belong in the trees,” arborist Nili Niu said.

Besides, few offices in the nearby Financial District could offer the views the arborists enjoyed atop Telegraph Hill on Wednesday, Niu said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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