Steve Frazier is a professional climbing arborist.
He owns and operates Arbor-Ops LLC, an expert tree service, out of Keeseville, NY. “By the nature of my job I am considered an industrial athlete, my gym is your yard,” said Frazier. He acknowledges that tree climbers are a breed apart, and he may just be more at home in the bucket of a cherry picker or harnessed to a tree than on solid ground.
LABOR OF LOVE
Frazier arrived in the North Country in 1989. “My father, a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel, moved our family to set roots in the North Country when I was 14 years old, entering 9th grade at Plattsburgh High,” said Frazier. “Prior to that we had moved every few years, living and traveling throughout the United States and Europe.” That summer of 1989 would set in motion Frazier’s path of fulfilling a dream he could never have imagined — getting paid to play outside with very expensive and very dangerous toys.
“I spent most of that summer working with my grandfather (Opa) in the woods near Garnet Lake, New York, clearing a heavily forested area of his property in order to build a family camp,” said Frazier. Opa had grown up there and still owned a few hundred acres. “We slept in a camper on site. We would wake up a 6 a.m. and get right to it.” It was hard work for a teenager. “I remember sweating all day in 90 degree heat with relentless swarms of black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies. I quickly learned how to deal with it,” he said. Opa would fell the trees, the majority of which were one-hundred-foot-tall white pines. Once down, the two would shed the limbs and stack them as high as possible to burn.
The logs were moved to a pile using a tractor, which Frazier learned to operate. “Opa was no joke and very strict about safety,” said Frazier. Prior to being allowed to touch any power tool or piece of equipment, it was required that the owner’s manual be read and understood. “He would test me on the important points.” Even though he was not expecting to be compensated, Frazier left with a check from his grandfather for $600, and memories that would last a lifetime.
After a summer of rewarding physical labor, independence and heavy equipment, Frazier saw himself working in the great outdoors for a living. “I told my mom I wanted to work outside, she told me I was going to college and getting an inside job with benefits,” said Frazier. After high school he studied Environmental Science at SUNY Plattsburgh and graduated in 1997. “While a student, I worked for the university’s buildings and grounds department year-round,” said Frazier. “My senior year I was taking care of all new tree plantings, the flower beds and the college president’s yard. I had a lot of pride in that job.”
In 1998, the Ice Storm hit. “I worked for FEMA, with a local Department of Transportation crew for six months, helping in the cleanup of roadsides throughout the North Country,” said Frazier. “I gained valuable safety training and experience operating chainsaws and large chippers.” That fall, Frazier’s mother’s dream for her son came true. “I got a job inside with benefits. I started at Bombardier Mass Transit, where I gained valuable technical and intrapersonal skills that still help me out,” he said. “While there, I started my tree service on the side.”
Frazier’s side job soon took front and center and since 2007 he has been living the dream. “I make a living working in new and often exciting outdoor locations, year round in all types of weather, managing some of the largest living organisms on the planet, by means of highly specialized equipment, tools and skills available from years of experience and continual learning of the art and science of tree care,” he explained.
THE CUTTING EDGE
Frazier is proud of some of the highly mechanized equipment and techniques the Arbor-Ops team has mastered. Typical jobs will have between two and three employees on site. “We regularly perform some of the largest, most
technical and hazardous removals in the area,” he explained. “Between our advanced climbing and rigging skills, and our specialized equipment and tools, we continually strive to be as safe and efficient as possible. That includes Bluetooth helmets that enable two people on a job talk to each other. That equipment has greatly increased safety.
The evolution of equipment continues to increase productivity, making Arbor-Ops faster and safer every year. For example, traditionally brush was “cleared”, meaning dragged, manually from one spot on a site to another. Frazier now employs a machine that can grapple approximately forty inches of brush, many times what one person could carry, and move it quickly from one location to another.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR TREES
From a purely practical standpoint, whether you love or hate them, if you own trees, they are going to require maintenance. “They are going to make you pay attention to them. They can be beautiful or they can be a hindrance,” said Frazier. He recommends some simple steps that property owners can take to know where they stand with their trees. “Assess them for safety. There are preservation techniques where a little bit goes a long way,” he added. The proverbial ounce of prevention can literally be tons of cure for property owners down the line.
Frazier thinks his approach is what sets Arbor-Ops apart from other tree services. “We offer a holistic approach to long term management of a client’s arboricultural needs,” he explained. “We evaluate a property with respect to the safety and health of the trees and provide a cost-effective management solution catered to the client’s specific requests and budgets.”
In the past few years, Frazier has connected with hundreds of other tree service owners nationwide in a mentor group. It has made him aware of how much the literal landscape of tree service will change over the next 30 to 50 years, as young growth trees grow up and out. “A lot has to do with the age of the trees and the species,” explained Frazier. He anticipates that simple things like roadside maintenance on highways and public roadways will be a challenge in years to come as trees grow and mature in areas that started out clear cut.
Frazier sees green waste recycling as a goal. “The hope is to create an operation to utilize our waste products. We have all this organic biomass and we can convert it to everything from compost to mulch to firewood, whatever we can do to reclaim it.” He also hopes to create a nursery for trees.
That first summer cutting down trees with Opa, Frazier learned a healthy respect for the fine art of tree removal accompanied by a love of being in nature. But the question remains, “If a tree fell in the woods, did Arbor-Ops make it happen?”