Text and Photographs by Peggy Taylor
“Trees, not the wilds of glass, brick, stone, and cement, make neighborhoods more civilized,” says Citizen Pruner Franz Kaufmann, 77, who has been pruning street trees on the Upper West Side since 1997. A member of Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project and Trees New York, Franz is a retired businessman who has mastered the art of tree pruning and regularly removes dead, damaged, and diseased limbs and those obstructing traffic signs, storefront signage, and windows.
Armed with his pruning shears, long-handled lopper and pole saw, Kaufmann takes down limbs, thick or thin, from twigs to heavy branches. For branches 1/2” to 1” in diameter, he uses his hand pruner; for branches 1” to 1 1/2” a long-handled lopper; for branches 2” and up a pruning or pole saw. To remove dead or hard wood, he uses short or large blades. Contrary to what some might think, pruning doesn’t impede the growth of branches, rather it enhances it. Pruning promotes the health of our urban forest and makes the Upper West Side more livable and beautiful.
A few weeks ago, I followed Franz on one of his pruning missions — to take down low-hanging branches of a honey locust in front of Janovic Paint and Decoration Center on West 72nd Street. Branches were dipping dangerously below the sidewalk scaffolding and almost hitting the heads of passersby. It was fascinating watching him assess the branches to be pruned, select the right tool to trim them, then trim them with surgical precision.
Kaufmann, who has pruned around 100 trees and has never tired of it, would like to see more Upper West Siders follow his example. “In the 25 years I have been active, I have seen other Citizen Pruner’s only about five times,” he said.
To become a New York Citizen Pruner, Kaufmann passed the Citizen Pruner Course sponsored by Trees New York, which trains volunteers in tree care, biology, identification and pruning, and is the only institution which trains and licenses New Yorkers as Citizen Pruners. The course consists of eight hours of classroom training plus four hours of hands-on experience in the field. After passing his exam, Kaufmann received a pruner ID (and cap) and a license valid for five years.
Trees New York trains and certifies an average of 200 Citizen Pruners a year.