Tree accident initiates process to create new Casper rules

Ryan Winger told the City Council he works in the tree service industry and supports the proposed regulations. (City of Casper, Youtube)

CASPER, Wyo. — A Casper man died after a tree felling accident. An individual not certified as an arborist was cutting trees in his yard.

The Casper City Council approved on first reading new “trees and shrubs” rules on Tuesday, Sept. 17. They’ll need to approve the rules on two further readings before those would go into effect.

Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson voted against the proposed ordinance along with Councilmen Ken Bates and Steve Cathey.

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“This ordinance to me, doesn’t really do anything,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that he didn’t think the ordinance had much teeth and wouldn’t necessarily prevent accidents like what happened in the above-mentioned felling incident.

“Do you think increasing the teeth is the answer?” Khrystyn Lutz said.

Johnson said that the most the council could do is establish ordinance violations as misdemeanors. He said he does support people getting licensed and obtaining insurance, but didn’t think that requiring this as stipulated in the proposed ordinance would be effective.

“I don’t think this is the deterrent we are hoping it will be,” he said.

Councilman Mike Huber said that he recognized Johnson’s concerns, but still supports the ordinance.

He said it might prompt people to ask tree service workers whether they are properly licensed or not.

One of that man’s daughters, Veronica White, urged the city council to adopt the new set of rules.

“This may seem like an isolated incident, but I believe that if it happens once, it can happen again,” White said. “I don’t want to see anybody else bury someone in their family like this.”

“Why in the heck was he even out there in the first place? No arborist is going to let anybody out there.”

She thanked the Casper Fire Department and hospital staff who cared for her father.

“It took seven people just to get that tree off of him,” she said. “To this day it is so difficult to even think about what he went through. I just want you guys to think about this when you’re voting on it.”

The proposed rules would not apply to people cutting trees on their own properties.

Citizen Ryan Wenger, who says he works in the tree service industry, said he brought up an idea to require arborist licensing in Casper three years ago.

“Our industry kills lots of people each year,” he said. “All we’re asking is that it be a little bit regulated.”

He said he was in favor of the proposed rules.

Adam Welch said he works with a smaller tree service operation and had some concern the regulations could squeeze out the smaller businesses.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged the risks involved in aerial tree felling and said some of the regulations are needed.

Both Wenger and Welch said that requires a properly certified arborist be on site when such aerial operations were underway.

Huber asked both individuals to continue to provide specific feedback on the proposed rules as council moves through the process of adopting the requirements.

Councilman Steve Cathey offered an amendment to make an exception to the proposed aerial operations rules on demolition sites. That amendment would make it so that a licensed arborist wouldn’t need to be on a demolition site if the property was unoccupied during such operations.

This amendment failed.

City Attorney John Henley says that the majority of tree companies the city has spoken with were in support of adding arborist licensing requirements.

“The vast majority of the tree companies asked for increased training requirements, certification by the International Society of Arboriculture and [to] maintain significantly higher liability insurance and Workers’ Compensation insurance,” Henley said in a memo.

He added that another suggestion from local tree services was to add a requirement that any aerial tree or shrub removal operations require the presence of a certified arborist.

Staff reviewed a “Trees and Shrubs” chapter of the municipal code and suggested substantial changes:

  • When seeking a commercial arborist license, people would have to first successfully complete a competency test through the Wyoming Extension Office.
  • Within three years of obtaining their license, commercial arborists would need to get certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.
  • Commercial liability insurance coverage of at least $1 million per occurrence would be required, up from the $100,000 minimum currently mandated.
  • Aggregate insurance coverage would be raised from the current $300,000 minimum requirement to $2 million.
  • Workers’ Compensation coverage would also have to be provided under the proposal.
  • While permits are required under the current code to conduct trimming, cutting and other tree and shrub work, the proposal adds in language that would make it a misdemeanor for working without such a permit.
  • A fine of up to $750 could be administered for violating those rules.
  • ISA Certified Arborists would be required to be on scene anytime cutting or trimming operations are taking place above 12 feet.
  • Trees or shrubs on any public property cannot be planted or removed without written permission from the Parks and Recreation Department. That is true under the current code, but the proposal would make it a misdemeanor with fines up to $750 for violating these rules.
  • Trees would be prohibited from planting within four feet of curbs or sidewalks, up from the two foot distance required currently.
  • A requirement that trees be planted a certain distance apart would be removed.
  • State of Wyoming designated weeds such as Russian olives and tamarisk would be prohibited.
  • The proposed changes would provide exceptions for planting “cotton-bearing cottonwood trees” within 40 feet of the river. They are prohibited in other public places.
  • While willows aren’t currently allowed on public spaces, a proposed change would make them okay so long as they don’t exceed a maximum of ten feet in height. They’d be allowed at any height along the river.

Full details of the proposed changes are available in the council’s work packet.