Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa chain saw massacre? Tree job draws ire

Trees on Julia Street were cut into “V’s” and lost much of their canopy. An arborist who works for Tampa Electric says the trimming style focuses on the trees’ health and ensures reliable power service. Looks aren’t as important.


Trees on Julia Street were cut into “V’s” and lost much of their canopy. An arborist who works for Tampa Electric says the trimming style focuses on the trees’ health and ensures reliable power service. Looks aren’t as important.

SOUTH TAMPA — For 11 years, Shelly Hollingsworth appreciated the shade cast over her block by its tall laurel and live oak trees.

But that all ended two weeks ago when she drove onto her street and found much of the canopy gone. All she could do was stare.

Tampa Electric crews had made their way to Julia Street as part of their plan to prune trees every three years to avoid major blackouts during storms. Every week, year-round, they slice branches near power lines throughout Hillsborough County and parts of Pasco and Pinellas.

Sometimes, once-sprawling trees are left ugly skeletons of their former selves.

But the company says that in some cases, it's either looks or lives.

On Hollingsworth's street, the canopies were sliced deep. She fired off an angry e-mail and photos to every media outlet she could think of, Tampa Electric and the mayor.

She titled it "tree tragedy."

She's not the only one to complain about branches and limbs seemingly whacked by electric companies across the country.

If the companies are criticized for anything, it's often tree pruning. Yet the practice is among their most expensive budget items, with a yearly nationwide cost of $1.5-billion. And, Tampa Electric arborists say, it's the most effective in preventing power outages and electrocutions, especially during a hurricane.

Since Tampa Electric beefed up its tree pruning program two years ago, its crews have become more visible. If you haven't seen them yet, you may soon. This week, they were scheduled to be everywhere from Temple Terrace to Bloomingdale to the West Shore area.

Tree-fueled disasters

Pruning, experts say, can prevent catastrophe.

Consider the blackout of 2003, one of the largest in history. Across the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, and into Canada, trains stopped. Gas pumps, elevators and air conditioning systems were rendered useless. Looters took to the streets.

The blackout affected 50-million people. They burned candles, which caused fires. They fired up generators, which produce carbon monoxide. Several died.

A final report pinpointed the primary culprit: overgrown trees.

When branches touch power lines, the wood acts as a conductor, which can release thousands of volts and cause short circuits, power outages and fires.

In 2004 and 2005, back-to-back hurricanes led to major power outages in Florida. People questioned the viability of electric companies — could their power lines withstand the storm?

The electric companies blamed the trees and, in 2006, the Florida Public Service Commission began requiring them to trim trees every three years.

That's why, every year, Tampa Electric trims one-third of the trees in its coverage area.

'Really disgusting'

Hollingsworth understands the need, but still feels her trees were "chopped" haphazardly. They look like giant V's, with power lines running down the open middle.

"It's really disgusting," she said.

Tim Boylan, another Julia Street resident, calls Tampa Electric's trimming job "careless." He said two trees in his back yard died after the utility company trimmed them. "They took almost every single branch off the trees."

John Webster, a certified arborist and forester who works for Tampa Electric, said the trimming style focuses on the tree's health and ensures reliable power service. Looks aren't as important.

Instead of cutting small branches touching the power lines, which would create lots of little stubs, Webster says the tree can heal faster if you make fewer cuts to major limbs.

He said the death of a tree is rare, but if the tree is already declining and would die anyway, the trimming could accelerate death. "Aside from the aesthetics," he said, "it is not all that invasive to the tree."

Robert Northrop, a forester with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Hillsborough County Extension, said utility company standards for pruning trees work.

"Believe me, I'm not trying to take a stand for 'It looks great' or anything," Northrop said. "They do the best they can."

Information from the USDA Forest Service and the International Society of Arboriculture was used in this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

>>fast facts

Planting a tree near power lines?

• Make sure tall trees, like oaks, are 30 feet away from the lines.

• Shorter trees can be planted closer to a power line.

Shorter trees: anise, arbovitae, bottlebrush, fringetree, holly, Jerusalem thorn, lyonia, oleander, photinia, plum, privet, red buckeye, silverthorn, sumac.

Shrubs: azaleas, buckthorn, Chinese juniper, coral bean, firebrush, pineapple guava, pittosporum, privet, viburnum.

Palms: European fan, pindo, pygmy date, sago, windmill.

For information

Tampa Electric's tree-pruning schedules are updated weekly. To find out if the company plans to prune trees in your area this summer, call (813) 223-0800.

Tampa chain saw massacre? Tree job draws ire 06/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 4:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  2. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  3. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot


    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of
  4. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  5. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]