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Back to the Future - The Future of Landscape Appraisals

By: Joe Samnik
Tel: 727-410-5797
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The new 10th Edition, Guide for Plant Appraisals, is currently in the review and comment phase. This long awaited publication (if not Holy Grail) could be available in 2013. Having reviewed the publication I can, at this time, state with some certainty that future depositions will become much shorter and the ranks of the new unqualified landscape appraisers will be filled in large part from the current ranks of the qualified. As a book review goes, I shall go no further until such time that the 10th Edition is playing in a theater near you.

Regardless of the authoritative source which you use to lay the foundation of your plant appraisal opinion, one thing is certain: In Florida, as in most common law states, the value of shade and ornamental trees is the difference in the value of the property in which they are growing immediately before and immediately after the casualty that killed or irreparably damaged the tree(s). In words other than those just stated, the trees appraised value is found in its contributory value to the land in which it is growing. We as arborists are not qualified to make this determination. The future may suggest that arborists team up with property appraisers to define the appraised value of a tree.

To this end, comes one court case that clearly illustrates contributory value and The Tree Trunk Formula Method as they relate to forming an appraisal opinion regarding plant value. Clark v. JW Connor and Sons, Incorporated finds the Florida chapter's first secretary, Jack Siebenthaler, RLA, as the unfortunate arborist whose application and resultant value of destroyed trees using the Trunk Formula Method caused the judge to interrupt the proceedings by declaring, "I really have heard enough, now we need to move on. It's clear to me that- that the approach of the Plaintiff, which is to take- cannot be permitted. The land is admittedly unimproved; at least I believe it is from everything I've been told in this case, simply an unimproved piece of land, non-residential. And the trees simply are growing on it in some haphazard fashion that nature has a way of doing. And that your approach would be so economically preposterous in my opinion to make 2 acres-2 acres of land, I haven't asked you what the value of the land is, but I think anybody would know the approximate range of what that land is worth down there, to turn that into an $ 82,000. to $100,000 damage in my opinion is just preposterous and simply an effort to overkill, that's not compensation, that's-that such an approach does not even remotely relate to reasonable compensation for unimproved land in this county.

In Mr. Siebenthaler's defense, despite the trial judges pretrial announcement concerning the proper measure of damages, the Clarks introduced no evidence whatsoever concerning the value of the land before and after the trespass. Therefore, when Connor moved for a directed verdict, the Clarks had failed to prove damages according to the established rule.

It seems safe to think that applying the Tree Trunk Method for determining the value of trees may not be its best application on unimproved land. Naturally, one would want to consult with their attorney/client prior to the utilization of any appraisal approach. We as arborists are not qualified to interpret law, that's why we have attorneys.

If you are going to utilize the Tree Trunk Method please ensure that you do your market research first, and consider your qualifications prior to establishing an appraised value of a tree or plant; otherwise, it may be a short deposition...


Joe Samnik, is an Arborist Certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. Mr. Samnik has over 46 years of practice encompassing tree issues, arboreal and horticultural consulting, dispute resolution, tree and plant appraisals and expert witness in tree and landscape issues.

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