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Do I really need an ISA Certified Arborist for tree work? How do I pick one?

Why Hire an ISA Certified Arborist? 

I like to compare trees to people. If you were sick, or needed something serious, like an amputation, you would want someone educated in that area helping you, right? This is what an ISA Certified Arborist is to a tree. They are educated in tree biology and best management practices. ISA Certified Arborists must have 3 years of work experience and pass a lengthy exam about arboriculture topics to become certified. They also must stay up to date with CEUs and sign a code of ethics agreement.

Trees are long-lived organisms that require specialized care when grown in rural and suburban settings. Root damage and poor pruning are frequent issues with trees in these settings. Having someone that knows how branches attach to the trunk results in pruning cuts that heal faster and reduce the risk of infection. This knowledge is also used to protect trees during construction and reduce root damage during sidewalks and driveway work.

The Many ISA Certifications 

There are several different certifications within ISA. The Certified Arborist credential is most frequently completed first. Individuals can also choose to add specializations such as Climber Specialist, Aerial List Specialist, Municipal Specialist, Utility Specialist. Specializations usually depends on the area the professional works in. Utility specialists generally work in vegetation management around utilities, while municipal specialists often work in urban forestry. There is also the Board-Certified Master Arborist certification that is arguably the hardest certification to obtain and maintain. Most of the Board-Certified Master Arborists that I know work in consulting, research, management, though you can find them working on trees as well. Additionally, there is a Tree Risk Assessment Qualification.

Selecting an Arborist 

Deciding which ISA Certified Arborist to pick starts with visiting the website . Here you can verify a credential, find an arborist near you, and download information about basic tree care.

Selecting an arborist can take time. You may want to hire a consulting arborist before speaking to one that will do the work. A consulting Arborist is an ISA certified arborist that will come to inspect your site and talk to you about best practices. They often do not do the actual tree work. Frequently, they also do not work for a company that does tree work. Some people prefer this as they feel this eliminated suggestions for unnecessary work as the consultant is not gaining from the work that will be done. You can contact tree companies from the ‘find an arborist’ function. Obtain more than one quote for the work. Never hire someone that you are uncomfortable with.

In Summary:

Do I really need an ISA Certified Arborist for tree work? No. Hiring an ISA Certified Arborist does not guarantee quality tree work. It does, however, increase the chances that you are hiring someone with the knowledge, skills and ethics to do the job right.

How do I pick one? Talk to multiple people. See if they all suggest the same work. Hire someone that you are comfortable with and that show the knowledge needed. Do not simply hire based on price. Good equipment and education can be costly.

Here are red flags. Do not hire anyone that says:

  • They will top your tree
  • They will hurricane prune, or lion tail your tree
  • They plan on climbing a living tree with spikes on. (These are grips on shoes that can cause damage on living trees.)
  • They knocked on your door offering to do tree work.

Always ask for

  • References
  • Licensing, insurance and permits to do the work.
  • A written proposal
  • Do they know about ANSI 300 pruning standards and ANSIZ133/1 safety standards?


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