Deep in the forest of Sudden Valley, strapped to the top of a rotten hemlock tree, hundreds of feet above the ground, Dominic Yoxtheimer yanks the start cord of small chainsaw attached to his waist. He uses the chainsaw to begin trimming large branches that drop to his crew members on the ground below. “Every day you carry your mortality in your hands and you have to make decisions based on that truth,” he said. This is just another day on the job for Yoxtheimer, 23, who is a tree cutter for Earthworks Tree Service.
Since it was founded in 2007, Earthworks Tree Service has been growing and is looking to expand its services to surrounding counties like Skagit, said Brandon Brodie, owner of Earthworks. Originally a two-man crew, the company has grown to employ six and is ready to hire another. “Were booked out for the next month, it’s the best it has ever been,”Brodie said.
The Earthworks crew is unique because they provide both certified tree cutters and consulting arborists in house. The combination of these business sectors under one canopy allows for Earthworks to offer a more comprehensive set of services to its customer while remaining competitive in a crowded industry.
Although tree trimming and removal are the bread and butter of their work, they are not selling the removal of trees, Brodie said. The ultimate goal of Earthworks is to keep trees alive. Their team of consulting arborists can categorize trees based on the likelihood that they could cause damage and make assessments as to if they should be removed. In the last two years, Earthworks has begun offering plant healthcare consulting to mitigate potential damage from a tree.
One of the ways they mitigate potential damage is with a process known as crown reduction pruning. They are one of the only businesses in town that offer this service in contrast to an antiquated method known as thinning, Brodie said. By shaping the tree and shortening limbs the Earthworks crew can keep the tree standing and make it less likely to cause damage. Thinning is an outdated method where tree cutters remove every 5th branch. The idea behind thinning is that it creates less wind resistance but it leaves the remaining branches more vulnerable to break and causes the tree to sprout branches in response, Brodie said.
In addition to crown reduction pruning the company offers soil analysis that allows them to test for nutrient deficiencies and supply required minerals to keep a tree going. They can also bore into a tree to analyze decay and asses how likely it is a tree will fail. Earthworks also provide tree planting and will add mulch at the base of trees, which helps to maintain moisture.
Recent years of drought have lead the company to help more customers develop property-specific watering plans. JohnDeacon, 44, is the crew leader for Earthworks. Deacon has a background in forestry and has done timber technician work for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The drought has led to a die-off of western red cedars which poses a threat to structures but also poses as a fire hazard, Deacon said.
“We’re having a lot of dying-out of Western red cedars in the environment that we are just beginning to wrangle with,”Deacon said. “Though it might be good for business it’s troubling to see, especially in the Pacific Northwest where we have the vision of being the evergreen state.”
Cutting down large amounts of trees can result in land degradation known as desertification. A process where the ground is exposed to more sunlight and therefore dries out faster. Part of keeping trees alive is by having more trees around, Brodie said. This is why Earthworks plants three additional trees for every one removed, a practice that is required by the city or county, depending on where the property resides. If the tree is near a lakeshore, stream or on a slope there is a definite need for additional trees to be planted, Brodie said. Earthworks gets its supply of trees from Urban Farm located in MountVernon.
“Something that sets us apart from our competition is that we really care about trees,” Brodie said.
As Yoxtheimer begins making his way down from the top of the hemlock he cuts large sections of the dead tree. The logs plummet to the forest floor below making a loud thud. After the last cut, he rounds the top edges of the 15-foot spur. The remaining spur will be left standing to offer birds a nesting opportunity and to continue supporting life in the surrounding forest.