The Tree Climber: Francisco Davila
What I Do:
Francisco Davila, 33, is a professional tree climber and arborist charged with the protection and preservation of New York City’s trees, from the immaculately tended 778 acres of Central Park to the almost 700,000-acre Alley Pond Park in eastern Queens. For the trees that line city streets, an arborist will use a motorized “bucket lift,” but that’s rarely practical in the parks, so Davila brings in the rock climbing–derived gear — ropes, carabiners, belay devices — to scale trees that can rise above 100 feet. Standing on the ground, Davila tosses or slingshots a single rope around a high branch. One end of the rope gets wrapped around the base of the tree to make a stationary anchor; the other end is the fixed line he climbs up using foot- and hand-ascender slings. Once he’s up a tree, Davila can attend to the business at hand: rescuing a cat (“I’m on the cat registry, so I get a lot of calls”); pruning limbs; inspecting for insect infestation and fungal diseases; even taking a kind of X-ray of the tree by pounding in sensors to measure how long it takes for sound to travel from sensor to sensor. “I get a good visual of the innards of the tree on the laptop,” he says. A hollowed-out dying tree in the wilderness is one thing. In a city park, unless it’s cut down, it’s liable to eventually crash down on someone’s head.
Raised in the city with no previous forestry training, Davila got his start teaching basic tree climbing to mostly high-school drop-outs in the Million Trees Training Program, one of then Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives. He taught it well enough to do it for a living, earning several certifications from the International Society of Arboriculture, then working his way up the ranks to his current gig as arboricultural supervisor for Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, employed by the nonprofit Prospect Park Alliance. “Basically, you just need a willingness to be in an elevated situation and a desire to do it.”
The Perils of Raccoon Crap:
“It’s unfortunate that when we’re cutting down a branch or the whole tree because of a hollow, we’re sometimes making squirrels or raccoons homeless, because that’s where they live. The raccoons look at you funny when you’ve exposed their home, but they just tend to go away. Squirrels are different. I haven’t been bitten yet, but they’ll crawl up your arm and take a couple of laps around your torso. But it’s OK, you’ve become one with the animals in the trees at that point. What’s bad is the giant mountains of raccoon poop in the tree. It’s extremely unpleasant, and you end up getting covered in it.” –Joseph Hooper