KIRKWOOD, Mo. — 16 down, one to go. That was the count on a gray and rainy Thursday in early March when students from the horticulture class at St. Louis Community College’s (StLCC) Meramec Campus gathered to watch a dentist take down a tree. It was being funded by a grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
For David Slane, DMD, this was merely a routine extraction, just one more dendro than dental. Dr. Slane is also an arborist, certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. In fact, Slane’s self-appointed nickname is “Arbor Dave”. When he’s not working at his Kirkwood practice on teeth that have roots under the gum, he’s at work on trees with roots underground.
“They have things in common,” Slane said. “In both cases you diagnose and treat problems.”
The problem here was invasive trees. StLCC staff identified 17 nonnative, invasive trees on the Meramec campus, and they wanted them gone. These included Callery pears, golden raintrees and tree of heaven—all are problematic and tend to reproduce very aggressively. Slane was contracted to remove the trees and stumps, all of which will eventually be replaced by native trees. Slane had saved the biggest, a sprawling white poplar, for last. It was going to be a field lesson on how to properly remove a tree for students in the school’s horticultural class.
The removal and replacement of the 17 invasive trees is being paid for by an MDC Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance (TRIM) grant.
TRIM grants are administered by MDC in cooperation with the Missouri Community Forest Council. The program provides reimbursements of $1,000 to $25,000 to grant recipients to fund up to 60 percent of money needed for projects. TRIM grants are designated for care and maintenance of trees on public property. Applicants need to be municipalities, schools, or non-profit entities.
“The program is set up to be as broad as possible,” said MDC Community Forester Mark Grueber. “We’re very open to new ideas like educational projects that teach staff or the public about trees and tree-related issues.”
Grueber said he was especially enthusiastic about this tree removal because of its demonstration value for the students. “St. Louis Community College is very interested in teaching the students and the public about management of invasive species, like this white poplar,” said Grueber.
In true clinical fashion, Dr. Slane said his first step in the white poplar extraction was to complete a hazard analysis of the site. “We have a strategy meeting on how we’re going to cordon off the area, keep pedestrians out, and make sure we’re not harming any person or structures,” said Slane.
With the students assembled outside at the tree on a Thursday morning and a safety zone taped off, Slane thoroughly covered the steps he would take during the removal. He demonstrated the equipment and techniques for the job, which he said employed two phases.
Phase one was to top the tree out, or remove all the branches, leaving only the stubs and main trunk. This had already been completed before the students arrived.
The next phase was removal of the main trunk. Slane explained to the students that he intended to use a traditional two-cut method.
His first cut was a face notch. “It looks like a Pac-Man bite which faces the direction you want the tree to fall,” he said. Next, Slane wielded his chainsaw to create a straight back cut on the opposite side of the first cut. This cut would bring the tree down. Finally, after driving wedges into the back cut with a mallet to provide the last push, the giant trunk fell with a guttural thud as droplets of water scattered in the wet grass.
It was a vivid and engaging lesson in arboriculture for the students. Slane then answered the students’ questions while standing over the fallen trunk.
What was “Arbor Dave’s” after-action assessment of the procedure?
“It went perfectly, and the students were really into it.”
Coincidentally, Slane graduated from the StLCC Meramec Campus himself. “I have a special bond with the college and I also love teaching. Anytime I can interact with students it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
“The horticulture department of St. Louis Community College at Meramec is really just a fantastic cooperator with MDC,” said Grueber. “They work with us not only on their curriculum and tree management, but they do a lot to get students interested in careers in forestry.”
According to Grueber, the downed white poplar will be replaced with a native pecan tree.
TRIM applicants must submit a completed application by June 5, 2020 that details project costs and funding sources, maps and drawings of the project site, a three-year maintenance plan for the project and a letter of approval from the governmental body owning the proposed project site.
For more information on TRIM grants, including grant application and workbook, visit mdc.mo.gov/trim.