Ontario’s arborist industry is growing and evolving as the conversation around the health of our planet and how to preserve it continues.

What is an Arborist?

An arborist is an individual with the technical knowledge and experience required to optimize health and manage the maintenance of trees and other plants. The responsibilities of an arborist can range from pruning or removing trees to fertilizing or irrigating soil and consulting with city planners.

Having been involved in urban forestry for over 40 years, I can attest to the variety of tasks performed by arborists. In one day, an arborist might feed brush through a chipper in the morning; testify on a personal injury case resulting from tree failure after lunch, and provide testimony at a municipal planning board hearing about the impact of development on nearby trees by late afternoon.

With a growing need for arborists, it is increasingly important that the certification process for the trade is well established to ensure the safety of arborists and to uphold best practices in arboriculture.

Arborist Apprenticeship Trade Program

Ontario is in a unique position with its voluntary Arborist Apprenticeship Trade Program, which was designated by the province in 1992. More recently, a Utility Arborist Trade was created under the same provincial recognition.

The scope of the Arborist Apprenticeship Trade Program relates to the physical aspects of tree work, which includes the identification of trees, the development of safe work practices, the use of appropriate tools and the rigging, pruning and removal process.

Employers enroll their apprentices in two twelve-week, in-class sessions delivered by a college or other recognized training agency, over a two-year period.

This program requires the apprentice to demonstrate their technical knowledge and experience by completing a list of sign-off tasks, such as the safe starting and use of a chainsaw in front of the employer. Upon completing the classes and sign-off tasks, the apprentice can apply for a written test to become fully certified.

Municipal and Consulting Arborists

While some arborists opt for the apprenticeship program, others may work in a municipal or consulting capacity and provide services related to the identification, care and management of a single tree as it relates to:

  • Planting programs and community outreach such as Earth Day, Arbor Day or Forest week events.
  • Planning, planting and managing public and private trees under the Municipal and Planning Act.
  • Providing testimony in court or at planning hearings related to trees.
  • Developing management programs for invasive species affecting trees and plant health care programs.

Arborists are often engaged by other professionals such as architects, engineers, planners, lawyers, and landscape architects, that need the help of an arborist to complete their projects. This includes road reconstruction or infrastructure projects near trees, site development, court cases associated with trees, planning hearings and planning appeal hearings.

Regulation of the Arborist Trade in Ontario

Until recently, the Arborist Apprenticeship Trade program was regulated by the Ontario College of Trades. However, the Ontario College of Trades has since been replaced by Skilled Trades of Ontario, which governs trade legislation and regulation in Ontario. Currently, their focus is on mandatory trades. Therefore, there is uncertainty about when the legislative review process of voluntary trades, like arboriculture, will begin. These review processes consider important elements of the trade, including consumer protection, health and safety, and upholding certification standards.

Previously, there was a review process of voluntary trades driven by industry stakeholders, in consultation with the Ontario College of Trades, to determine the need to change the status of a trade from voluntary to compulsory status or to leave it as voluntary.

Unfortunately, several incidents among arborists have occurred over the last decade – many of which were reported by the media. However, the incident tracking by the media has been helpful to understand the number and scope of incidents occurring in the field. It is hoped that this data will further the discussion on introducing safer work procedures and increasing the training requirements for incoming and less experienced arborists. To that end, hopefully it will also highlight the need to engage the Province of Ontario to review the status of the arborist trade, among others.

What’s Next for Arborists in Ontario

Action is being taken to help raise awareness about the work of arborists and of the urban forestry industry. This includes offering better post-secondary education opportunities and municipalities setting the standard for arborists.

The next few years in the arborist industry will be exciting and transformational as our industry works with other key stakeholders to raise the standards and conduct of arborists.

For further discussion or interest in helping our industry become safer, more professional and achieve greater recognition, please contact the Ontario Urban Forest Council at info@oufc.org.