You generally find them at truck stops. Flags that is – big flags. Do you know they’re 40 feet wide?

It’s 1992 in Oakland, California, and we were standing in front of this humongous Canadian flag that Neil Thiessen had liberated from a Husky truck stop. No it wasn’t any kind of invasion but rather an international union to cheer and support the 13 who had decided to demonstrate their passion for professionalism in tree care by peddling 1000 miles, from Seattle to Oakland. Two of those riders were our colleagues from TransAlta’s Distribution Line Clearance group.

Cycling, or perhaps I should say cycling great distances, to raise money for tree research was one of those ideas that was so far out there that you really weren’t sure if the logistics could be adequately handled to give it true life beyond just a single gasp. Well it did indeed come to life and this year will be the 23rd Tour des Trees with 79 riders. In the first year $89,000 were raised. That number has grown steadily and in total over $6.6 million has been raised. That’s great, but we could do so much more.

Why would I think more is necessary? If you look at the number of storms over the last 20 years that have disrupted service to hundreds of thousands of customers what amount of that damage was due to trees? I’d guess it’s more than half and if we take out the effects of tornadoes, it’s probably somewhere between 70 to 90%. Now if we had all the answers why haven’t we remedied this situation?

I spoke to a couple of the Tour des Trees riders to get their perspective. Randall Miller of PacifiCorp and chairman-elect of the Tree Fund is riding to demonstrate leadership. Randy is passionate about arboriculture and professionalism in arboriculture. He will be riding his second tour this year.

Phil Graham of BC Hydro will be riding his 10th tour. Phil is too modest a guy to say this about himself but apparently he is an absolute monster rider. So, we’re not entirely sure if Phil’s reason for riding is the good cause of advancing arboriculture, as he said, or if it’s because of the endorphin high he gets. Both indicated that a great personal benefit of riding is the fine people one meets and relationships that develop. Having ridden so many tours, I asked Phil if there was any singular outstanding memory. He reported he was particularly touched when the group planted a tree in the National Arboretum in Washington DC in memory of his father who had passed away about two weeks before the tour.

But back to why people like Phil and Randy undertake a 500-plus mile ride in rain or shine. It’s about funding arboricultural research and education. Randy put it succinctly in an op-ed piece he wrote. “Without research and education, any pretender can make a claim about what’s good for trees, and if we as professionals deliver no better results, we have nothing to offer but the best sales job and lowest price.” How will we deliver better results? By being better informed and that information is derived from research.

If you work in the field of utility arboriculture it must be apparent that much of your knowledge is derived from research. Times have changed and researchers employed by universities have to find outside funding for their work, much like private research firms and consultants. That means it’s up to us in the industry to pay for it. While raising half a million dollars a year as the Tour des Trees has been doing the last few years may seem like a lot, it’s not. The Utility Arborist Association has just shy of 3,000 members. The International Society of Arboriculture has over 20,000 members. If each would donate $100 to the Tree Fund the annual figure would exceed $2,000,000. If you work in arboriculture I ask you to divide $100 by your annual income. I’m sure the result is well below 1%. Are you willing to invest in the future of arboriculture – your future?

You don’t work in utility arboriculture? Well if you’re reading this column than you likely have responsibilities, such as electric service reliability, that are impacted by trees. You too have an interest in arboricultural research.

I am soliciting your support. You can donate by supporting a tour rider or by directing funding to Utility Arborist Research Fund. This is an endowment fund that was the brainchild of Mike Neal. It ensures that the funding will be directed to research that is directly applicable to utilities.

Use the links below to go to the Rider Gallery and support one or more of the riders or to donate to the Utility Arborist Research Fund.

The Rider Gallery http://stihltourdestrees.org/2014-rider-gallery/

Utility Arborist Research Fund http://www.treefund.org/utilityarboristresearchfund