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Its OK to love trees
in honor of Arbor Day, we found out how tree professionals came to love their jobs, too
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Van Thompson, of Wade Tree Service, prepares to climb a storm damaged tree that he will cut down piece by piece. - photo by Tom Reed

It takes a special sort of someone to really love trees.

To know the species, their growing habits, how to care for them and even how to cut them down.

And there are folks out there who have made caring for timber their lifelong career. In honor of Arbor Day today, we wanted to find out, what is it about trees that make them special for these professionals?

Take Don Wade, owner of Wade Tree Service in Gainesville. He loves trees so much his license plate on his super-duty work truck reads "D Tree."

"I was raised on a farm and I had cut trees all my life," said Wade, who has been in the tree service business for 28 years. "We talk people out of taking trees down so many times because I don't care about cutting trees to cut them, I really cut trees that are problems, that can damage your home or your neighbor's home."

Wade said communication has to be No. 1 at all times to keep his crew of four men - two who are climbers and two who are on the ground - safe.

So instead of planting a tree on Arbor Day, these men care for trees, diagnose their health and honor timber.

Forest Hilyer has made it his mission to save the hemlock trees in Lumpkin County from an infestation of the woolly adelgid, which is an aphid-like parasite that was introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1950s.

"We started out as a coalition to address issues in North Georgia," Hilyer said. "It was an issue no one had really picked up yet or visited at that point so we thought it definitely needed attention."

Today's holiday is one more way to celebrate the environment, Hilyer said.

"I think that every day is Earth Day and Arbor Day, and I do think that those days put focus on the issues that are extremely important ... that keeps the awareness alive.

Hilyer began organizing Hemlock Fest, held the first weekend each November, to raise money to fight the woolly adelgid. He said he thinks they have been successful raising awareness in the North Georgia area.

"We definitely think we are still working toward it (awareness), but I think we have raised the awareness incredibly throughout the state and helped other efforts get jump started," Hilyer said. "We would love to duplicate this effort in other counties, but we have to get in down here first (Lumpkin County)."

Taking tree health to another level is Gainesville's Scott Griffin, who is a forest health specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

"There's really not a typical day, and that's really what I like about my particular job I have know," said Griffin, who has been with the commission for 15 years. "We deal with insects, diseases and invasive plants that have an impact on trees, and right now we are doing a lot of monitoring. We are monitoring for Southern pine beetle, to get an idea what the pine beetle population is going to be like."

Griffin, who graduated from the University of Georgia, also is in charge of the Champion Tree program for the state, which is undergoing a few changes right now.

"We want to update the Web site," he said. "We are going to focus more now on native trees. The list we have now includes any tree. ... We're going to have a list of just native trees, and we have removed anything that is invasive."

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