Before foresters or biologists can collect pine cones, examine pest infestation, or follow their study-animal up a tree, they have to go to tree climbing school.
Daniel DePinte is a Forest Health Specialist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station at Northern Arizona University. He teaches summer tree climbing classes for the U.S. Forest Service – the only agency to offer professional certification.
DePinte’s students are from agencies including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Border Patrol, as well as wildlife biologists and other field scientists. They first start indoors, learning basic training about protective equipment and safety rules. Then, the class heads outdoors.
They spend eight hours a day tree climbing with partners. A standard safety rule is to maintain at least three points of attachment because, as DePinte says, some trees are ‘friendlier’ to climbers than others.
Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs have thick bark and allow climbers to put a lanyard around the trunk and “spur” up, using sharp points on their boots. Limber pines are a climber’s dream, often having strong, evenly-spaced, ladder-like branches.
In contrast, spruces are tricky because of their dense branches and sharp needles. Climbing them is a struggle that leaves you scratched-up and covered in sap.
For most students, the 3-day course is challenging, even if they have previous climbing experience. Climbing trees is much different than climbing steady rock when you’re 100 feet up in a canopy being tossed around by the breeze.