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Bridging the Knowledge Gap: Training and Gender Issues in Tree Climbing

PlanIT Geo



How the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop provides invaluable experience

Bridging the Knowledge Gap Training and Gender Issues in Tree Climbing

Tree climbing is a unique profession in many ways.

One of the most surprising aspects of the job is the ambiguous career and training path. Most climbers stumble into this field with no intention of pursuing (and potentially no knowledge of) tree climbing as a profession.

Unlike other skilled labor (e.g., carpentry, welding, plumbing), virtually no formal career training exists for tree climbing, despite daily dangerous tasks and specific skills required for the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual fatality rate for full-time tree workers is 110 per 100,000. The annual injury rate is even more discouraging: 2,390 per 100,000 tree workers.

These rates far surpass the fatality and injury rates of other industries. The most striking comparison is to first responders, a notoriously dangerous occupation. On average, being a tree climber is seven times more fatal. Tree climbing is an inherently dangerous profession, and a systemic lack of training exacerbates the risk.

As you’re reading this, you may notice yourself imagining these climbers as men. Nobody can blame you. The industry is heavily male-dominated. Women make up less than 5% of tree workers in the United States. When looking at only tree climbers (excludes ground workers), the percentage shrinks to less than 3%.


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Seeing these statistics and the lack of industry training, Bear LeVangie and Melissa LeVangie-Ingersoll recognized a need for better instruction and a more welcoming environment for women in the field. In 2009, they co-founded the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop (WTCW). It began as a one-day training, but over the years has evolved into a two-and-a-half-day comprehensive tree-climbing retreat for women in our industry. Bear, Melissa, and their team of instructors now hold these workshops several times a year across the country.

The workshop places a heavy emphasis on safety. The first topic is always personal protective equipment (PPE), because PPE that fits properly is more likely to be worn throughout the whole workday, reducing risk of injury. Instead of glossing over the required equipment, the instructors take the time to explain why each item is necessary, how to identify approved safety gear, and how to don it properly.

Additionally, participants have the opportunity to try out various styles of gear, find their favorites, and fine-tune their setup. A full kit includes head and eye protection, a harness, rope, and various climbing systems. This alone is one of the most valuable portions of the workshop. It is very rare for a climber to try on multiple harnesses and helmets AND climb in them before making a purchase. Knowing what will fit can save climbers a considerable amount of money as a full tree climbing kit can range from $600 to $1500.


Bridging the Knowledge Gap_ Training and Gender Issues in Tree Climbing




Bridging the Knowledge Gap_ Training and Gender Issues in Tree Climbing

After matching attendees with the right climbing gear, the tree climbing instruction begins! The instructing team approaches the curriculum methodically, first focusing on the moving rope system, teaching the closed climbing system, followed by the open system, and building from there. In some cases, it is appropriate to move on to teaching stationary rope climbing (a more advanced technique) and its difference to the moving rope system. In other situations, participants may prefer to spend their time perfecting their skills on the moving rope systems or learning throwline (the technique of setting a line into a tree). Bear, Melissa, and their lead instructor Rebecca Seibel have a remarkable ability to understand what each unique cohort of learners requires and how to adjust the agenda to meet their needs. They are supported by an incredible team of assistant instructors, ensuring the instructing team is large enough to give each participant attention and feedback so that everybody leaves with a strong foundation in tree-climbing and the confidence to apply their new skills.

I was lucky enough to attend WTCW in the infant stages of my climbing career when I was just far enough along to accept that battling my throwline would be a regular morning ritual. Being a part of this workshop was invaluable to me as a climber. I learned proper climbing skills before I had time to create a habit of bad ones. I began to understand different types of ropes and harnesses and when they are appropriate. Most importantly, however, I felt seen. The workshop acknowledges that being a woman in the field of arboriculture can be an isolating experience. WTCW aims to counteract this by empowering women in their skills, building an ever-growing network of women in the field, and providing a strong reminder that we not only belong in this field, we have tremendous value to offer it.

Paradoxically, women, who have been underserved and underrepresented in the field of arboriculture for so long, now have access to one of the best tree climbing workshops available in the United States. Thanks to Bear and Melissa, an increasing number of confident, knowledgeable, and skilled women are entering the field as climbers! If you’re interested in learning to climb trees, check out WTCW and their upcoming workshops!

This year, PlanIT Geo sponsored the Texas Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop in March, where the author participated as an assistant instructor.








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