Clarification on Current Operations

I’ve been getting a lot of messages from clients who are confused about the current ban on non-essential work. And with good reason. The government’s stance has changed on a seemingly daily basis and social media is replete with conflicting information. Clients also see other companies in their neighbourhoods trimming hedges, grinding stumps or doing routine pruning and ask me why I’ve held off on doing similar work for them.

The simple answer is, I have to. Other companies may think they don’t have to but they’re kidding themselves and risking hefty fines. 

The government’s first list of essential services was so broad that it may as well have covered businesses that were not essential. Under that list, hedge trimming and stump grinding was fair game. (Although allowed, unnecessary work still posed significant public health risk.) However, the list has since been revised and the definition of essential work for our industry had been narrowed considerably. Here’s the current wording, which deems essential: 

“20. Maintenance, repair and property management services strictly necessary to manage and maintain the safety, security, sanitation and essential operation of institutional, commercial, industrial and residential properties and buildings.”

What this means is that tree companies are allowed to provide services that address a safety hazzard or a threat to property. These are things like dead/dying trees, line clearance and pruning away from buildings. If a tree isn’t dead, rubbing on a house or showing signs of an imminent failure, then an arborist should think long and hard about whether or not to proceed. Companies that provide non-essential services right now risk fines of up to $100,000. Some contractors in Ottawa have been slapped with 5-figure fines for defying the ban on non-essential work. 

A lot of people in arboriculture have desribed tree companies as an “essential service,” which I think adds to the confusion. If the company as a whole is essential, the thinking seems to go, then all activities conducted by that company must be allowed. However, tree companies are not services. They are businesses that provide services. Some of those services are essential. Many of them are not. 

The Ontario Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) listed specific services it considered essential and non-essential. They said that “Imminent hazard tree removal or removal o[f] a dangerous tree,” is essential, but “Routine tree removal when no abnormal safety issues exist” is not. They also listed planting and routine pruning as non-essential.

If you see other tree companies operating in your neighbourhood, it could be for a couple reasons. First, it could be that they are doing essential work. I’ve been in touch with many tree companies since the pandemic started and most of them understand the situation and are respecting public health measures. Some companies, however, may be acting selfishly. The pandemic couldn’t have hit at a worse time for arborists, most of whom would be coming back after a long off-season. However, the fines for non-essential work could put us out of business, so we are taking a conservative approach. 

We are continuing to operate, but only within the limits of current public health measures. We are pruning and removing trees that are hazardous to people or property but everything else is on hold until current measures are lifted. We are sorry for the delay and we are eager to return to normal operations as soon as possible.