“It’s not easy being green.”
These words were made famous by Jim Henson’s iconic frog, but also ring true for our city trees. The stoic sentinels that line our streets and dot our parks are in danger, and tree advocate and arborist Brian Holers is trying to make it a little easier to be green.
Holers started the company Root Cause to promote the survival and wellbeing of city trees through arboriculture. This task is often more daunting than it might sound. “Trees and development are natural enemies,” he said. “If your job is to build a house on a small city lot and there’s a tree in the way, the first obvious step would be to cut down the tree.”
While tree preservation is not in the best interest of most developers, Eastside life simply would not be the same without these trees. And many Eastside trees would not be the same without Root Cause.
Root Cause specializes in air excavation technology, which allows arborists to dig safely around trees and improve the surrounding soil. Another technology Holers uses is porous pavement, which allows the roots to receive water and nutrients, while also protecting the tree from some of the harsh effects of city life.
“We always start with the assumption that a mature tree has value,” Holers said. “A tree has a function. It cleans the air, water; it takes up pollutants; it cleans the soil; gives us shade … we start with the assumption that, with care, city trees can be preserved.”
Root Cause’s jobs range widely, from creating porous pavement walkways between Microsoft’s office treehouses to protecting the roots of an iconic elm tree at the University of Washington.
However, arboriculture was not always Holers’ plan. After graduating with a degree in psychology and religious studies from Louisiana State University, Holers took a while to figure out his professional calling. He traveled to East Africa, Southeast Asia, and Jerusalem with his wife and their child. He even tried writing a novel.
Holers now balances his creativity and pragmatism through his work with Root Cause.
“Try to imagine what it would look like if there were no trees. Trees are awesome,” Holers said. “But city trees can only grow with the nutrients we give them. What lies beneath is always a mystery, and that’s why I like my job so much.”
Continue reading see what this tree-loving titan does on a typical day.
I start off the day with a cup of coffee to get ready for the long workday ahead.
Every morning, I meet my team at “the yard” in South Seattle, where we store our equipment and materials. Here, we review the day’s projects, assign tasks, and load up the needed materials.
Commuting is a regular part of my workday. Currently, we have projects in Ballard, Capitol Hill, Bellevue, Redmond, Mercer Island, and even as far south as DuPont.
Today we install porous pavement at Seattle Academy, creating breathable environments for trees, making sure pedestrian walkways don’t interfere with healthy plant growth.
I’m one of the few certified installers for this particular porous pavement in the state. The process requires precision and speed to get the material just right.
The porous pavement dries quickly, so we have to mix and place the material as quickly as possible. This creates a fast-paced, stressful environment.
My work is what many would call a “dirty job.” I often need to change my clothes, especially my shoes, when working between job sites.
I’ve arrived at the next location in Ballard and unload the remaining materials from my truck. This afternoon involves excavating the roots of a giant redwood tree inside a residential housing zone.
I meet with a fellow arborist to discuss the tree in question. The decision? This giant, century-old redwood was planted here before any of these homes existed.
I’m meeting with a team developing single-family homes on the property. We discuss root zones and city regulations, so we can understand where tree roots exist on the property.
This is Derrick, my team lead for the last three years. I give him instructions for defining the root zones and managing the work on the giant redwood.
I’m a huge baseball fan. I’m part of two leagues for men over the age of 50. Tonight, we are playing in Kirkland at Lee Johnson Field, where I play catcher and third base.