A certified arborist is comparing his industry to the “wild west” as more and more people are taking up the job with little to no training in an attempt to cash in on the demand created by the emerald ash borer.

Jamie Enright said that while he has been trained to use ropes to climb up towering trees and saw down the branches one by one, there’s a growing number of unskilled labourers doing this type of work, which is not a restricted trade in Ontario.

“A lot of them don’t even know there’s such a thing as certification,” he said. “It’s just like the wild west. Everybody’s getting into it because there seems to be some easy money to be made. Just like the wild west, a lot of people are going to get hurt.”

In the past four years, nine people have been killed and 67 critically injured while working on trees in Ontario, according to the Ministry of Labour.

The International Society of Arboriculture is now warning homeowners about the dangers of hiring workers without experience who buy chainsaws and market themselves as professionals in a dangerous profession.

Bill Gardner, a member of the Ontario chapter of the society, said that inexperienced workers might not have liability insurance, opening a homeowner up to a lawsuit if that worker is injured on their property.

“Your insurance will not cover you if you have deliberately, knowingly chosen somebody who is not qualified or trained to do the job,” he said.

Dying ash trees boost industry

The City of Ottawa has already removed more than 15,000 dead or dying ash trees infested with the emerald ash borer since 2009.

Gardner said the demand to remove trees will continue to grow, because 30 per cent of Ottawa tree canopy is ash. He emphasized that an arborist’s job is to understand the strength of wood, or lack thereof due to damage.

“We’re working out in Mother Nature and Mother Nature puts dead branches, bird holes, raccoons in the trees and those are all hazards, plus the fact that a storm may have badly damaged a tree,” he said.

Enright said the lure of cheap labour offered by inexperienced workers is a big risk, given the dangers of the job.

“You combine working at heights with power saws and heavy branches and wood that’s falling out of the sky,” he said.

His 20-year-old son, Cordell, is working with him to complete his apprenticeship hours for his arborist college program. Enright said training is not taken lightly.

“I have to be able to sleep at night. I have to be able to live with myself. If he were to get hurt — or anybody else — then I’m second-guessing whether I trained them well enough,” he said.