Does a blue dot mean these trees are in danger?

Blue dot on the tree of life

The spray-painted blue dot that I discovered this morning on the beautiful red pine across the road from the Manse. What does it mean?

A blue dot is innocuous enough, right? Well, people, I hope so. But this morning I got a start that got me wondering. Let me explain – and in the process ask you if you know what that blue dot means.

Over the last couple of weeks, crews with Hydro One – provider of electricity throughout rural Ontario – have been out and about in the Queensborough area, cutting down tree branches and, in some cases, whole trees. I have to assume this is because there is concern that these trees and branches are too close to hydro wires and pose a risk to both safety and electrical delivery if high winds, or the weight of snow or ice, cause them to fall onto the lines.

I don’t think it’s any skin off anyone’s back to see a few branches cut and cleared – and indeed, the crews have been dutiful about taking away the brush piles they create. But I find it sad when whole trees are completely, or almost completely, taken down. Here’s the remains of one recent casualty on Queensborough Road a little west of our hamlet:

Tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

And here’s an even sadder spectacle, a little further west on the same road:

Second tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

Here’s how you know it was Hydro that cut the tree – an orange H spray-painted onto the trunk before the cutting begins:

H marks the spot

Here are some small trees just south of the Manse on Bosley Road that, as of this morning, were still standing, but maybe not for long thanks to those orange Hs:

Orange Hs on Bosley Road trees

Or maybe in this case, as in most others I’ve seen, these trees will just lose some of their branches. At any rate, I assume this is work that needs to be done, but as I said, the loss of whole trees makes me sad.

Which leads me back to the scare I got this morning.

I looked out the front window of the Manse onto a sunny and almost springlike morning, and there were two Hydro One vehicles – a pickup truck and a tractor-y affair with a cherry picker on it – heading slowly south past the house. I figured they were headed down the road to do some cutting at the spot I showed you just now in my photo. But when they stopped at the end of our driveway, and stayed stopped for several minutes, I started to worry.


Because the Tree of Life – a red pine that is easily one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen – is located immediately across the road from our driveway:

The tree of life this winter morning

The Tree of Life (as Raymond and I call it) on this bright late-winter morning.

Surely, I thought with horror, it couldn’t be a target for the cut-down crew! There’d been no orange Hs painted on it; you can be sure I would have reacted before this if there had been. Not that the tree stands on my property, you understand; it’s at the corner of the expansive yard of our neighbours Steve and Dana and their family. But because it’s front and centre in our field of vision from the Manse, and because it is so, so beautiful, it looms large in our lives. I wrote a whole post about it here, in our early days at the Manse (when I hadn’t yet figured out what kind of tree it is); and here are two more photos of it, showing how glorious it is in the morning of an early-summer day or the late-afternoon sun of late summer:

Tree of Life July 2014

Late-summer sun on the Tree of Life

Alarmed that this beautiful tree might be at risk, I hastily changed from my bathrobe to my clothes and prepared to grab coat, jump into boots and head out the door if necessary to speak to the crew. Mercifully, at just that point they started up again, turned the corner onto King Street and drove out of sight. What a relief!

But once they’d gone, I took a closer look at the Tree of Life and saw, for the first time, that while it doesn’t bear any orange Hs, its trunk does have a blue dot spray-painted on it.

What does that mean?

I ask this not just out of concern for the Tree of Life, but because a little while ago I noticed that an identical blue dot had been spray-painted onto a tree we do own. It’s a tall, happy tree (whose species I am embarrassed to admit I do not yet know) that stands in front of the historic Kincaid House next to the Manse; Raymond and I bought that house a few years ago. Here’s a photo that shows the blue dot:

A blue dot on the Kincaid House tree

And here’s one that shows how tall and stately our tree is:

Stately tree at the Kincaid House

So what’s this all about? I assume that it’s Hydro One crews who have sprayed the blue dot, since they’re busy spraying those orange Hs all over the place. But a translation would certainly be helpful. Is it shorthand for “Owner of tree, we’re coming for your tree”? Or for “You’ll be hearing from us about the need to cut some branches”? I am mystified, especially since the blue dot’s been there on the Kincaid House tree for a while, and we’ve had nary a communication from Hydro One. If there’s cutting to be done, will Hydro One do it, or will we be expected to arrange it ourselves? And do I get a chance to appeal any tree- or branch-cutting determination that has been made by Hydro One?

Since Raymond and I bought the Manse a little more than six years ago, and moved from Montreal to Queensborough full-time 4½ years ago, I’ve learned – or re-learned – quite a bit about living in rural Ontario. I’ve learned about “911 numbers,” and bitterns, and the usefulness of long underwear on cold early-spring days. I’ve been reminded of a lesson learned in my childhood about the importance of keeping the mailbox shovelled out in winter. I’ve even made some progress on my tree-identification skills. And I’ve learned how to make pie crust!

But one piece of rural wisdom that I have not yet picked up is what a blue dot spray-painted on my tree, and on the beautiful tree of my neighbours, might mean. Can anyone help me out?

10 thoughts on “Does a blue dot mean these trees are in danger?

  1. Hi Katherine: Here is a link to an article from the Ontario Woodlot Association. They explain some of the colours that are used, and their meaning. “Yellow paint is used in most harvesting operations (on private land) to identify the trees to be cut. Blue paint is used to identify trees to be retained (e.g., for wildlife habitat) and red paint is used to identify property boundaries.” Hopefully, the blue dot on the Queensborough tree has the same significance as what’s printed in the guide. And if you should see a green dot, it usually means that the tree is being treated for infestation. Here’s hoping that your beautiful tree will continue to give pleasure to Queensborough residents, and for many more decades.

    • Thank you so much for this link, Sash. My late father would have appreciated you checking with the Ontario Woodlot Association; he was very much into good woodlot management (having several hundred acres of woodland himself), and I believe was a member. It eases my mind to know that the blue dot suggests the tree should be retained, though shortly after I wrote this post I noticed that a tree in front of the Queensborough Community Centre that had been given a blue dot had also been trimmed of a fair number of branches. If there were to be trimming of the Tree of Life, I’d want to be on the scene to encourage its being as minimal as possible. Fortunately, the Hydro cutters and trimmers seem to have disappeared in recent weeks, so I’m hoping we’re safe for at least another year.

  2. Kathrine I think you should have chased the crew on the spot! They came through my area last year and their trimming can be dramatic. My roadside negotiations at the time WERE helpful. But I encourage you to call you local hydro office asap to clarify. Trust me, all over the province those folks deal with people who don’t want to lose their trees. On the other hand, in my area we have frequent power outages, and the process of clearing lines seems to have helped. BTW, I know some places are marking ash trees with green dots (emerald ash borer) but I have never heard of blue dots. I look forward to the next chapter! If you can save a school, you shd be able to save some trees 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your advice and encouragement, Liz! The tree-trimming operation seems to have stopped for now, but I think your suggestion to call up Hydro One is a good one. The crews are doubtless eager to get the job done as quickly as possible, and not too much inclined to carefully consider the aesthetics of a particularly beautiful tree such as the Tree of Life.

  3. Hydro One clear cut a very popular and beautiful beach trail area a couple of years ago, despite the City of Hamilton offering to trim trees to their specifications. I can’t find before and after photos, but it was very dramatic. They ripped out gardens in another area of the city, where homeowners extended their backyards onto their right of way.

    • Wow, Richard – this is a cautionary tale indeed. Yikes! I appreciate you sending it my way. Clearly one can never be too proactive; I am even more persuaded to take the suggestion of your fellow commenter Liz Huff (whom I know you know!) and call up Hydro One to get a read on their plans. One of these decades – or centuries – I expect our hydro lines will sensibly be buried underground (unless we’ve all gone to solar by then), but in the interim we have to be vigilant to ensure a good balance between reliable power delivery and protection of the trees that add so much to our lives and our communities.

    • Thanks for this information, Richard! Now what I want to know is whether the property-owner gets a say in the extent of the trimming when the blue dot is on a tree on that person’s property. Shouldn’t that be part of the deal?

  4. I believe your mystery tree might be a silver maple. That bark looks exceptionally familiar – we had three of them in front of my home growing up.

    • Well, Nicole, you got me running for my Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees (Eastern Region) to look up silver maples, and I agree that the bark looks awfully similar to our tree. But my next consultation was with Raymond, and we agreed that, a tad tree-oblivious though we may be, we probably would have noticed if our tree were a maple. The Audubon Guide shows that the silver maple has a very maple-like leaf – and that’s not the leaves on our tree. We’re thinking maybe an ash, but come spring (if it ever does) and the appearance of leaves, we will grab that Audubon guide and figure it out once and for all.

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