Tom Worthley

What should I do if I hear chainsaws in the forest? – #AskUConnExtension

Tom Worthley, one of our Extension foresters, explains what you should do if you hear chainsaws in the UConn Forest or in a forest near your home.

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Tree Mortality

UConn Collaborates on Gypsy Moth Cleanup

field and woodsConnecticut residents are all too familiar with the damage wrought by gypsy moths in recent years, particularly in the eastern part of the state.

In Windham County, for example, one of the most severely affected areas over the past few years, Canterbury first selectman Christopher Lippke puts the death of trees from gypsy moths along town’s roads at nearly 600.

With their voracious appetites, gypsy moth caterpillars are able to defoliate trees, particularly oaks. While healthy trees usually recuperate, the extent of the damage along with drought conditions over the past few years has impeded their recovery.

To help deal with the moths’ devastating impact on the environment, Lippke and many others in eastern Connecticut have engaged the resources of UConn Extension.

Tom Worthley, an associate extension professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, is at the forefront of this effort. He has met with homeowners, landowners, and community leaders throughout Connecticut’s Quiet Corner to offer advice on how to control the gypsy moth population even before an outbreak, what can be done in the midst of one, and how to mitigate tree damage.

Recently, he has spent much of his time addressing tree mortality. “During the spring and summer of 2018,” says Worthley, “the impact of previous years’ drought, defoliation, and secondary opportunistic pathogens became apparent as tens of thousands of roadside trees throughout eastern

Connecticut and thousands of acres of oak woodlands exhibited severe mortality.” He notes that both state forest lands and many private parcels in eastern Connecticut have been affected, with severe canopy loss on tens of thousands of acres, and partial canopy loss on many more, from the Rhode Island line west to the other side of the Connecticut River.

In Canterbury, Worthley worked with UConn students to assess the extent of the damage, recording stretches of roadway with up to 30 to 40 dead trees per mile. And he formed a working group of town and state officials, representatives from utility companies, and members of the forestry and arboricultural communities, to coordinate efforts to address the issues.

“Tom got the ball rolling for us,” says Lippke, the first selectman. “His expertise and knowledge are helping us be proactive rather than reactive.”

Dead trees can be hazardous. Falling trees and branches can injure people, damage property, hinder commuters and emergency responders, and bring down power lines. Dead wood also increases the risk of wildfires. Because of this,

Canterbury, like many other towns, is facing prohibitive costs, as the cost of cutting down a single tree can be hundreds of dollars.

In addition to local efforts, Worthley is also working at the statewide level. He has convened several meetings of stakeholders concerned about dead roadside trees as potential safety hazards, including representatives from the public utilities, the state departments of transportation and energy and environmental protection, professional arborists, tree wardens, and others. He emphasized the extent and seriousness of the problem, and encouraged communication and cooperation.

Worthley and other forestry experts guided Congressman Joe Courtney through Pachaug Forest in the spring of 2019 to survey tree damage. Recognizing the cost of clearing dead and dying trees, Courtney is exploring the possibility of using federal funds to address gypsy moth outbreaks.

“The scale and scope of tree mortality in eastern and central Connecticut is a potential public safety hazard and a problem beyond the capacity of towns, the Department of Transportation, and utilities,” says Worthley. “Dead trees are more dangerous the longer they are left to stand. Time is of the essence.”

Article by Jason M. Sheldon

Dealing with Storm Damaged Trees

By Tom Worthley, UConn Extension


tree down across road in Brookfield, Connecticut on May 15, 2018
Tree down in Brookfield, Connecticut on May 15, 2018. Photo: Jeremy Petro

On May 15, 2018, late in the afternoon, a striking example of one of those “severe weather events” we see quite often these days passed through my neighborhood in Higganum. Severe winds, downpours, lightning and thunder all were part of a wicked and deadly storm that ripped limbs from and uprooted trees, downed powerlines and damaged buildings and vehicles in other parts of the state. Images on TV news and social media of damage and cleanup efforts have been striking.

For my part, because of the sudden and severe nature of the winds, and the near-continuous display of lightning, I was as nervous I ever remember being about a storm event and the potential for damage to my humble little house from trees and limbs. Sure enough, one large limb, from the top of a large red oak, did get ripped off and came down about 20 feet from where I park my car. There is, of course, a mess of smaller twigs and branches as well. No real property damage, thank goodness, but it was close. The storm was over a quick as it began, and now, just like many folks around the state, I’m faced with a clean-up task. It’s not a real problem for me; that broken limb is at the edge of the woods and will make a nice neat little pile of firewood.

For many people, however, the task of cleaning up storm-damaged trees is not so straightforward and simple. Many damaged trees are huge and are left in precarious, unstable positions. Storm-damaged trees are fraught with abundant problems, dangers, and risks. Cutting, cleaning up and salvaging downed, partially down or damaged trees is one of the most dangerous and risky activities an individual can undertake.

In viewing the news reports, photos and social media posts I have been shocked and horrified by the personal risks that people are taking to cut up downed trees in cleanup efforts. Pictures of men operating chain saws in shorts and t-shirts, climbing downed tree limbs (and standing on them!) to cut them, working with no personal protective equipment, etc. – it can all be quite distressing for a person familiar with the potential danger. No professional arborist or logger I know does chain saw work without personal protective equipment – and these are the experts!

It cannot be emphasized enough that without personal skill and a thorough knowledge of equipment capabilities, safety procedures and methods for dealing with physically stressed trees, an individual should never undertake this type of work on their own. The very characteristics that make the wood from trees a great structural material can turn leaning, hanging or down trees into dangerous “booby-traps” that spring, snap, and move in mysterious ways when people try to cut them. They can cause serious and life threatening injuries. Just because your neighbor or relative owns a chain saw, it doesn’t make them qualified to tackle a large tree that is uprooted or broken. Contacting a Licensed Arborist, or Certified Forest Practitioner with the right equipment, training, and insurance, is the best alternative for addressing the cleanup and salvage of storm damaged trees, and avoiding potential injury, death, liability and financial loss.

That said, there are a few things a homeowner can do about trees that are damaged and/or causing other damage around a home site:

  • First, from a safe distance note the location of any and all downed utility lines. Always assume that downed wires are charged and do not approach them. Notify the utility company of the situation and do nothing further until they have cleared the area.
  • Don’t forget to LOOK UP! While you may be fascinated with examining a downed limb, there may be another one hanging up above by a splinter, ready to drop at any time.
  • Once you are confident that no electrocution or other physical danger exists, you can visually survey the scene and perhaps document it with written descriptions and photographs. This will be particularly helpful if a property insurance claim is to be filed. Proving auto or structure damage after a downed tree has been removed is easier if a photo record has been made.
  • Take steps to flag off the area or otherwise warn people that potential danger exists.
  • Remember that even if a downed tree or limb appears stable, it is subject to many unnatural stresses and tensions. If you are not familiar with these conditions, do not attempt to cut the tree or limb yourself. Cutting even small branches can cause pieces to release tension by springing back, or cause weight and balance to shift unexpectedly with the potential for serious injury. Call a professional for assistance.
  • Under no circumstances, even in the least potentially dangerous situation, ever operate, or allow anyone on your property to operate a chainsaw without thorough knowledge of safe procedures and proper safety equipment, including, at the minimum, hardhat, leg chaps, eye and hearing protection, steel-toe boots and gloves.

An assessment of the damage to individual trees, or more widespread damage in a forest setting is best undertaken by an individual with professional expertise. Homeowners should contact an Arborist to examine trees in yards or near to structures, roads or power lines. A Certified Forester is qualified to evaluate damage in the forest to trees and stands and advise landowners about the suitability of salvage or cleanup operations. The CT-DEEP Forestry Division can provide information about contacting a Certified Forester or Licensed Arborist. Check the DEEP Website,

or call 860-424-3630. Listings of Licensed Arborists can also be found at the CT Tree Protective Association web site,

While a nice tidy pile of firewood from a tree that was damaged in a storm might be the silver lining, it is not worth the risk of injury to yourself or someone else when tackling a very dangerous task without the proper knowledge, equipment or preparation.

Worthley Recognized for Forestry Efforts

Extension educator Tom Worthley received the Ernest M. Gould Jr. Technology Transfer Award today from the New England Society of American Foresters in Nashua, New Hampshire. With Tom are members of the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment: Senior Nick Vertefeuille, Asst. Prof. Bob Fahey, Tom, and PhD candidates Nancy Marek and Danielle Kloster. In the back are Research Technician Amanda Bunce and MS candidate Julia Rogers.Tom Worthley with colleagues receiving award Tom Worthley award recognition

Extension educator Tom Worthley received the Ernest M. Gould Jr. Technology Transfer Award today from the New England Society of American Foresters in Nashua, New Hampshire. With Tom are members of the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment: Senior Nick Vertefeuille, Asst. Prof. Bob Fahey, Tom, and PhD candidates Nancy Marek and Danielle Kloster. In the back are Research Technician Amanda Bunce and MS candidate Julia Rogers.