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Component Spotlight July 2020: New Jersey

New Jersey Arborists and the New Licensed Tree Expert and Licensed Tree Care Operator Law

By: Joe Greipp, New Jersey Arborists Trustee

In an effort that took decades, New Jersey passed a law that regulates the arboricultural community.

Until recently, NJ had approximately six hundred different professional licenses, but many tree care companies operated without insurance, training or expertise. Sadly and unnecessarily, too many were still being severely injured or killed in avoidable incidents. Representatives of the division of consumer affairs regularly reported the highest percentage of claims was related to tree care. These claims would often increase with storm response work.

In January 2010, the Tree Experts and Tree Care Operators Licensing Act passed with support from legislators, various consumer protection agencies, other green industry groups and the public. The Act established a two-tiered licensing structure which would be overseen by a nine‐member NJ Board of

Tree Experts. The law would only be effectuated once the rules document was vetted, approved and published in the NJ Register. This exhaustive process took seven years, and, in April of 2017, the Rules were officially disseminated in the NJ Register.

The goals of the law are:

  • to reduce injuries and fatalities among tree care workers,
  • to reduce damage to trees and personal property, and
  • to allow the state to hold companies accountable to current, recognized standards of tree care and safety for the betterment of the state.

The NJ Board of Tree Experts operates with the authority and assistance of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to enforce the law together with paid office staff, field inspectors, and the guidance of two Deputy Attorneys General. The two hallmarks of the law are business registration and licensing.

Business registration and licensing

To perform tree work for hire in NJ, businesses must provide the appropriately-coded general liability insurance of at least $1 million and the appropriately coded workers compensation insurance (landscaping codes are not acceptable). Companies must provide a comprehensive safety program and safety training logs in the proper use, inspection and maintenance of tools and equipment. Most importantly, the law holds all tree care companies to the most recent versions of ANSI standards and any and all other standards the Board deems applicable. Business registrations are valid for two years. 

The NJ Board of Tree Experts is responsible for the licensure of arborists. In order to apply for one of the two licenses from the NJ Board of Tree Experts, one must provide evidence of his or her education, experience, and character references. There is an option for reciprocity using combinations of ISA, TCIA and other voluntary credentials. Additionally, there was an option for grandfathering based on years of experience for the first year of licensing for the Licensed Tree Care Operator designation.

Licenses

The Licensed Tree Care Operator (LTCO) license enables the business to perform tree pruning, removal, repair, and stump grinding. The Licensed Tree Expert (LTE) license enables the same services and also tree establishment, fertilization, cabling and bracing, lightning protection, consultation, diagnosis and treatment of problems or diseases, risk assessment and management during site planning and development.

Thirty-two hours of continuing education are required every two years for both licenses, which are renewed on a biennial basis. A license may only be used for one business, so a licensee cannot utilize (or sell) his or her license for multiple companies.

The law has jurisdiction over any business offering tree care services in the state, whether it is licensed and registered or not. Municipal tree work that is done by municipal employees, utility tree work and approved forestry activities are specifically exempted by the law. Additionally, landscape work done to trees under 6”dbh, from the ground, without climbing, cranes or lifts is also exempted, providing standards are followed.

The law has been widely accepted by the majority of arboricultural companies. Though any additional paperwork or perceived bureaucracy can be frustrating on the surface, the Board gets a great deal of positive feedback. We are seeing improvements in the level of professionalism, largely due to the continuing education requirements. We are also seeing a reduction in the fly-by-night companies.

Effects on the chapter

Our ISA New Jersey Arborists chapter has experienced a substantial increase in attendance at our conferences and workshops, and we are getting requests for more educational opportunities. Both the Board of Tree Experts and the NJ Chapter are aligned with similar goals and work together to increase the level of professionalism, safety and training for arborists. The playing field for arborists is getting leveled, and the bar is rising. While some may find the additional hurdles to be burdensome, the vast majority have been supportive.

The Chapter has been assisting arborists in comporting with the new law. Through our newsletter and local events, we are able to assist chapter members with meeting the new law’s requirements. The chapter offers the majority of continuing education opportunities in the state, and, with increased attendance, we are able to put on increasingly valuable conferences and events. We are getting the opportunity to train arborists we have never seen or worked with before, and we do not take the opportunity lightly.

Through the current COVID‐19 pandemic, the partnership of these two boards along with other organizations was able to successfully petition the governor’s office to keep arborists in business as essential workers (with some limitations). Working together toward similar goals has benefited both organizations as well as working arborists and consumers. Additionally, with a working registry of all businesses in the state, we are able to quickly and effectively disseminate information about proper protocols for working safely during the pandemic.

Lessons learned

A caring, committed team of office staff and field inspectors is the glue that holds it all together. Even some of the most antagonistic business owners who are completely against any kind of new regulations often come around and become the best supporters as a result of this dedicated team.

The process of creating and passing this law took longer and had a higher cost than anyone anticipated.

It required years of persistence, relationship-building and navigation of unfamiliar legislative waters, and many committed individuals gave their time, knowledge, skills and money to this effort to make it come to fruition.

Covering a densely-populated, geographically-smaller state with field inspectors is a difficult task. It would be much more difficult in a larger, less populated state or region. There is also a tremendous amount of data that has to be tracked, and a powerful database system is critical.

At times, a vocal minority can be distracting. The Board must keep its eyes on the end goals and stay the course to administer the law evenly and fairly.

With the passing of the law, the chapter became more successful as arborists turned to the organization for educational opportunities and additional resources. The State Board was also more successful as a result of the chapter helping to provide training opportunities to the regulated community. These were previously untapped, powerful synergies that continue to benefit the industry and the public.

This article is meant only to give an overview of the law and its impacts. Links to the Act and the requirements can be found under the “Resources and Documents” tab on the NJ Board of Tree Experts’ website at https://njtreeexperts.org/.