Felling trees near power lines

      Recommendations on how to do it, and whether to do it at all. May 14, 2002

Is there a recommended way to fell trees next to power lines, especially if the tree is leaning toward the line, without the use of a bucket truck? I was thinking of two or three pulling lines attached to a winch to pull the tree away from the power line. Tree distance from power line is 5 feet.

Forum Responses
In my area of Pennsylvania, If you call the power company, even if the tree is on private property, they will cut it down for nothing just to avoid a call on a weekend or evening. If this is not the case in your area, I would use a cable, snatch block and come-a-long. I have removed a great deal of leaning trees with this method. Make sure you hook the cable as high as possible on the tree to be cut for greater leverage, run the cable through the snatch block, which is chained to a larger tree trunk, and then attach the cable to another large anchoring tree trunk out of the felling direction. I use 3/8 cable, 3/8 chain and a 4 ton come-a-long.

This just my suggestion - I am not a professional. You may want to hire one.

Just to add to the second suggestion using the cables and snatch block, make sure there is enough cable between the tree being felled and the snatch block to allow the tree to fall. Too short of a cable and you will snap it as the tree comes down, causing total mayhem. In other words, the longer the better.

My brother used to do this all the time with Ontario Hydro. They used pull lines and pulleys everyday (or they used a machine with a front end loader to push, and sometimes they used both methods).

Always call the power company first and let them know what you are doing. They may drop the line for you or they may at least want to be there to avoid any problems. There are many methods to drop a tree and get it to go the direction you wish, but none of them are 100% guaranteed. If you decide to take the risk, be prepared to pay the bill.

Call the power company. It's not worth playing around power lines - it can be your last thrill or your first huge insurance claim.

I am a professional logger. All the above advice is good except no one mentioned the actual cutting. Make sure you know what you're doing when you make your notch. Be careful not to cut all the way through on the back cut. Leave enough wood for a good, solid hinge but not enough to split the tree (barber chair). Don't even think of doing this if you're cutting white pine and it's cold (below freezing). Sometimes cold pines will break off the hinge as soon as they start to move and then you have no control.

Of course, I use the winch on the skidder to pull. I hook the cable as high as I can reach and then just snug it up tight but not enough to move the tree. Usually this will let you get your cutting done without pinching the saw.

Also, check your local laws about roadside tree cutting. Some states have a limit on how many trees can be cut so many feet from the roads and the brush must be so many feet away from the road because of fire hazards. These limits may be different for primary roads and secondary roads.

One thing on the placement of the pulling cable - unless you have a skidder or dozer with a logging winch hooked up, you need to go 2/3 the way up or higher. Not too high that you have the chance to break the top out, but you have more leverage up high. That means spikes and someone that can climb. I'll bet that the power company will do it for you. When they're that close, it's to their advantage to have them out.

A few years ago I hooked my 1/2 ton 4x4 on a large oak. The tree pulled the truck backwards, knocking the lines and transformer down. They fined me $5000 because I caught the woods on fire too. Be careful.

What is the voltage in the lines - 660, more or less? Do you have children? I've been a logger all my life, but I've never seen a log worth more than a life. My cousin's brother in law died on the end of a cable caught on a wire, right in front of his dad's eyes, slowly. Please call the power company.

From the original questioner:
Just wanted to see what some experienced people would do in regards to cutting near power lines. If/when the trees get cut I'll just call the power company to drop the lines. At one time they would do it for free, not sure about now.

Use a nylon strap (tow strap or snatch strap) to connect the cable to the tree, so if the tree gets into the power, it will not connect it to the puller. I would never do such a thing, but may the gods be with you.

Felling trees is a subject that has its own forum - and needs it. It is very dangerous work, full of unknowns and variables. I try to leave felling to nature or professionals, but occasionally will take down a tree. Scares the heck out of me every time, even after 30 years of experience.

Anyone who has been around the business for any amount of time can tell you of good climbers and tree guys who have been killed by some freak occurrence. I lost a good friend that way, and trust me, I think of him every time I start a saw.

I really don't think you should mess with those trees! I have been in utility line clearance for thirty odd years now. I've been called to scenes both with my big orange truck (power company) and also with my big red truck (fire department) to pick up the pieces. Ask yourself if it is worth the risk, or possibly your life. Call the utility.

Voltage could be as high as 24,900 volts on a distributions line. Higher if a transmission. Typically cooks body from inside out...

When someone wants me to fall a tree I tell them I don't do that - get a professional with insurance. I have been felling trees since I was 13 (I'm 47 now) but I don't want the liability for that one slip up.

Get the power company to do it. I cut one on a feeder line, knocked out 9000 customers, radio station, several signal lights! If I hadn't been cutting for the church, this would have been expensive. They waived the charge.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I am a professional arborist and I have seen what powerlines can do to people and property. Never attempt to take a tree down yourself if it is in close proximity to powerlines. If a powerline is knocked down, it can energize objects on the ground that you would have no clue are hot until it's too late, such as a chain-link fence.

Comment from contributor S:
I recently had a similar problem, dealing with 80' black poplar leaning toward my house.

My solution was to tie the end of 200' of bailing twine to a turnbuckle. (Anything small, heavy, with round edges.) This I spun and threw into the treetop, old fashioned sling style. I suppose you could use a large nut and a wrist rocket sling shot instead. It usually took a couple dozen throws to get the bailing twine over the right limb.

With the object then back on the ground, I used it to pull a 1/2" nylon rope over the branch, and back down. I made a fixed loop (bowline) around the standing part of the rope, in effect making a lasso. I always did this so that it went around the trunk.

The messenger line was pulled down, then retied to the eye of the lasso. With the help of the messenger line, and pulling on the standing part of the rope, it was a few minutes to get the loop snug around the trunk by the branch. (This method won't work for a tree that doesn't have a clear lower trunk.)

Once the rope was in place, I tensioned it with the tractor enough to take the lean off the tree. (55 HP Deutz - about 3 tons. This is not a job for a garden tractor.) If the saw pinches a lot before half the notch depth, you have too much tension on the tree. If it doesn't pinch at all, then that side of the tree is probably not in compression, and the tree may still fall with the lean. Increase the tension before doing your back cut. On some of the trees, I had some minor pinching of the saw when making my notch.

On a couple, the direction opposite the lean was not suitable for dropping the tree. The usual techniques for making the hinge thicker and one end seem to work fine. All 8 trees fell within a couple feet of where I intended.

While I've been cutting 8 cords of firewood a year for nearly 20 years, I felt this was some of the most dangerous work I have done. Grow eyes on the back of your head. Have a partner to watch for you.

Poplar doesn't seem to have the grain structure to barber-chair. It can break off half way up.

I strongly advise practice before doing this where it's critical. The first time I tried this last year, I didn't tension the rope enough, and the tree went down 45 degrees off. Missed the house, but smashed my picnic table to splinters.

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