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Arborist Incident Response Teams Reopen National Parks After Hurricane Matthew

AIR Teams

Arborist Incident Response (AIR) teams of the National Park Service (NPS) play a critical role in reopening national parks after hurricanes, ice storms, floods and other natural disasters. In disaster response and recovery, arborists from national parks throughout the United States mobilize into “Arborist Incident Response Teams,” better known as AIR Teams. Two AIR teams were sent to the Hurricane Matthew National Incident Management Team based in Jacksonville, Florida, and aided in reopening 20 park sites from North Carolina to Florida.

The two AIR Teams deployed to Matthew-affected parks are coordinated by the NPS Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, a program of the Northeast Regional Office in Massachusetts and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Compared to a typical sawyer team that might respond to an emergency, AIR teams provide specialized resource assessment and stabilization techniques that meet professional arboriculture and resource management standards in accordance with the International Society of Arboriculture and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Proprieties.

A man is suspended in the air next to a large tree with a chaninaw dangling from his waist and tree limbs on the ground. A historic building is in the background.
AIR Team member Chris Ulrey preserves historic trees at the Kingsley Plantation of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

On historic landscapes such as the 18th century Kingsley Plantation, an NPS site that is part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville, Florida, the AIR team recently trimmed damaged limbs to save trees as old as the Civil War. In many recovery efforts in the past such trees would have been lost entirely. The team has also done significant work at Fort Matanzas National Monument and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

Read more about the accomplishments of the Arborist Incident Response Team 2016.

Arborist Training Program

Most AIR Team members develop their skills through the NPS Arborist Training Program (ATP) which is offered and supported through the NPS Learning and Development program. This is the only NPS learning and development opportunity for employees to build competencies in tree care that effectively integrates technical skills with fundamental concepts and objectives of professional cultural resources and facilities management.

The program is delivered via classroom sessions, field training projects, webinars and independent study projects. Some of the knowledge and skills learned in the ATP are:

  • Chainsaw use
  • Tree climbing and rigging
  • Tree condition assessment (biology, field diagnostics, tree health)
  • Integrated Pest Management
  • Lightning protection systems

Incident Management Program

The NPS Eastern Incident Management Team (EIMT) for Hurricane Matthew included about 146 NPS staff from more than 27 parks and regional offices. The team assists in the management of large-scale incidents in parks, such as the recent Civil War 150th anniversary event, and natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and last year’s flooding at Death Valley National Park. Learn more about the Incident Management Program in Reference Manual 55.

The EIMT continues to coordinate the assessment and recovery operations at all of the affected parks. Inspection teams are wrapping up the damage assessments at the parks affected by Hurricane Matthew this week and are now assisting with the recovery and repair of damaged park facilities and resources.

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