By PHYL NEWBECK
Greg Ranallo has had a love of trees since he was a boy, but after getting a master’s degree in education, he began teaching high school social studies in his native Minnesota.
During summers and school breaks, he ran a tree business which he named Teacher’s Tree Service after his chosen profession.
Unhappy with the traffic in the Minneapolis area and looking for a more rural environment with access to skiing to raise his two sons, Ranallo relocated to Vermont in 2003, living in Bristol, Starksboro and now Charlotte.
Certified in social studies and special education, Ranallo considered resuming his teaching career but instead opted to go into the tree business full-time, opening Teacher’s Tree Service in Shelburne.
“I was always more a tree guy who was teaching than a teacher who did tree work,” he said. “I’ve been working with trees since I was 19. It’s just something I was always drawn to.”
Teacher’s Tree Service works with property owners from Middlebury to North Hero and Stowe, although the majority of its work is in the Shelburne area. Most of Ranallo’s eight employees are arborists with college degrees in the field. The business diagnoses and treats diseased trees, removes, braces and prunes others, and plants roughly 200 trees each summer.
Ranallo becomes animated when he talks about the emerald ash borer, which poses a dire threat to ash trees across Vermont and much of the United States.
“It’s different from any other tree diseases we have here,” he said. “Over the next 15 years, the emerald ash borer will probably kill every untreated ash tree in Vermont.”
Emerald ash borer is a beetle that in the larvae stage form tunnels under the bark of ash trees and feeds on the part of the tree that moves water, nutrients and carbohydrates up and down the trunk. First discovered in North America in Michigan in 2002, it has since decimated ash populations across 30 states, according to forestry experts.
Emerald ash borer was first discovered in Vermont a year ago, and has been confirmed in Orange, Washington, Caledonia, Grand Isle and Bennington counties.
Ranallo said a trained arborist can save ash trees with treatment, which is less expensive than removing the tree despite the fact that it has to be repeated every two years.
“The borer creates mechanical damage which is different from Dutch elm disease which is a fungus,” he said. “Because it’s mechanical, you can see symptoms. Although the symptoms show that the tree is already compromised, it can still be saved.”
Ranallo recommends people getting their trees treated if they are within 15 miles of a confirmed siting. His website allows potential customers to input their zip code to see if the infestation has hit their area.
“If it’s a tree you don’t want to lose, you should treat it now,” he said.
Ranallo cautioned against hiring people who aren’t trained arborists, noting that he learned of a property owner who paid a significant sum of money only to find that the trees which were treated were actually box elders.
Ranallo said the emerald ash borer has only been around for 20 years but has killed hundreds of millions of trees. He considers the infestation more dangerous than other tree illness because it takes only 10 to 15 months for the tree to begin to fall apart and shed large limbs.
Those trees not under threat tend to serve a variety of beneficial roles in the natural and built-up environment, Ranallo said, including purifying air, sequestering carbon and slowing water run-off.
“Studies have shown that when there are trees in shopping center parking lots, people buy more,” he said. “Neighborhoods with trees have less crime and streets with trees have lower pavement maintenance costs. There is a lot that trees can do for us that we don’t recognize, so saving them is usually cheaper and better than cutting them down.”
Now 57, Ranallo is happy with his line of work.
“I really enjoy working outside,” he said. “I enjoyed teaching, but I don’t really miss it. Now I get to educate my employees and my clients.”