Introducing Vinton Town Arborist Jason Davison

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Jason Davison and the Public Works tree crew trim a tree that is blocking signage.

Vinton is one of the few towns of its size to have its own staff arborist. Jason Davison with Vinton’s Public Works Department has recently completed training for that position.

Public Works Director Joey Hiner said that before Davison became a certified arborist, the town would contact a private contractor per case, sometimes gathering a few cases for questions before bringing in a contractor, in order to save money. There was a time when the town had an arborist on a term contract for a few years.

“Having a current employee willing to go through the certification process– rather than making a specific hire from outside– is great for Public Works in that it is a boost to morale and increases the flexibility of our crews,” said Hiner. “Now we can have staff look at a particular question that previously may have been considered too small to justify the cost of consulting a private arborist. Granted, there will be some projects that are too large for our staff and equipment, but now we have a member of the team that can help make that determination.”

“We encourage our employees to continuously learn and acquire new skills,” said Donna Collins, Human Resources director for the town. “When we determined that we had a need for a certified arborist we asked if anyone was interested in going through the extensive training. Jason volunteered and we proceeded to work through what he needed to do.”

Davison and his team designed and built a wedding altar backdrop to be used for outdoor weddings at the Vinton War Memorial.

Davison began his formal training to be an arborist in September o2016 with a class in Sterling, Va., on the basics of tree work which enabled him to earn his certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) in December 2016.

The class and examination include topics on how to successfully grow a tree, including soil management, identification and selection of trees, installation and establishment of trees, safe work practices, tree biology, pruning, diagnosis and treatment, urban forestry, tree protection, and tree risk management.

When Davison expressed an interest in more hands-on training after his initial ISA training, Collins arranged for a weeklong session with the ACRT Inc., a utility vegetation management consulting firm in Akron, Ohio. Its mission is “to protect the health and safety of communities by researching, managing and educating people about the risk and liability of trees.”  He specifically studied working with easements and righs of way, the proper techniques for ascending and descending trees with and without the use of bucket trucks, and the proper techniques for cutting and pruning trees.

Davison is originally from Tabernacle, N.J., where he began doing tree work. He has lived in Vinton about nine years. His father relocated for his job and the rest of the family decided to come with him. He joined Vinton’s Public Works Department on October 20, 2008.

He is now the foreman for grounds in the Vinton department in addition to being the town arborist. The grounds crew is responsible for the trees, but also for mowing all the grass owned by the town– the rights of way, the medians, and lawns at the buildings and facilities owned by the town.

The tree crew only works with trees which impact public property. The crew frequently deals with “line of sight” problems with vegetation which involves traffic safety at intersections and with trees and shrubs which block signage. He and his crew must also resolve situations with high-risk trees and their potential removal. The Public Works Department is on standby when severe storms are predicted, with a main focus on removal of trees that fall onto the streets.

Davison has trained other members of the tree crew in proper pruning and tree removal techniques and safety as a result of his own training with the ISA and ACRT so that they are able to use correct procedures and meet highest expectations even if he isn’t present.

The crew has the responsibility for the dogwoods that the town is famous for, most notably at the Vinton War Memorial. Davison says dogwoods are one of the more difficult trees to grow and maintain, partly because they need acidic soil. The town also has many Bradford pear trees to care for, known to be fragile in strong winds, but also easy to grow relatively quickly and easily trained.

This photo is from a training exercise Davison did with his crew as a result of his own arborist training.

Davison said he loves the diversity of his job and the opportunity to complete special projects. His vocational training in high school in carpentry came in handy recently for a project at the Vinton War Memorial when asked to create a double-door altar backdrop for weddings to be used on the front lawn of the War Memorial during outdoor weddings. He designed the door with three easily assembled sections.

“We love having Jason and his crew to help us so much at the War Memorial,” said Chasity Barbour, event and operations manager. “I do not know what we do without them. His knowledge has helped us in our budget and making the War Memorial be able to offer the ‘outside’ ceremony for our guests.”

The crew was also responsible for the new barn doors mounted on the back wall of the Vinton Farmers’ Market Stage.

The Town of Vinton wants him as the staff arborist to be able to answer questions from the public, who they frequently deal with, without hesitation.

Some issues the Public Works tree crew encounter and advice they give include:

  • How to prune– Davison says pruning success depends on locating the proper place to prune each tree, usually at the lateral branches. Just lopping off the top of a tree or bush can lead to uncontrolled and random growth. Flush cuts are not the best. Choosing proper pruning tools is essential. The chainsaw is not the tool of choice for pruning in most instances.
  • How to pick out a tree to purchase– Davison says that at the store or nursery, dig down into the container a little and examine the tree roots to make sure the major roots aren’t overlapping, which can cause root girdling and death to the tree over time.
  • Drought– Davison says that insects, like borers that can jump from tree to tree, cause far more damage than lack of rain, except in young trees which need proper watering to establish a strong root system.
  • Abrasions– Davison says that being hit by some type of equipment or vehicle creates what is similar to an open flesh wound in trees, worse than a cut from pruning.
  • Preserving family heirloom trees– Davison says that trees planted by or in memory of a family member can unfortunately eventually pose a risk to public safety if located near a public street.

The town considers itself fortunate to have its own trained arborist, along with an increasing number of other specialists.

“We have several employees that are certified in specialized areas,” said Collins. “In Public Works, Kenny Sledd Jr., is a certified pesticide applicator; also certified to train others. Cory Kitzmiller is in the process of becoming a certified welder. In our Fire/EMS Department, we have more than 50 percent of our career staff with paramedic certification and another 25 percent currently working on their certification.”

“In the long term, it does save Vinton in contracting fees for specific jobs,” noted Collins. “However, more importantly, we are focusing on employee growth and future performance. It becomes a win-win for all involved when you focus on increased job satisfaction and morale among employees.”