The Tree Healer
By Dennis J Carrol, Santa Fe New Mexican July 17, 2017
For Tree Doctor 911, cutting down is 'last resort'
There are times it seems when only Steve Thomas and his Tree Doctor 911 crew can save a sick or dying tree.
Around the world, from diagnosing ailing trees from the back of an elephant in Thailand to administering first aid to a severely wounded Russian olive tree in Eldorado, Thomas said he “almost never loses” a tree.
Thomas, the son of a Clovis nursery owner and tree healer, works out of offices in Albuquerque and his major-projects center in Bijagua, in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province.
However, he has been spending more time of late in Santa Fe, where he says “they have a great heart to save trees. … People here are more tree-friendly than they are in other parts of the state.” Thomas plans to open a Santa Fe office sooner than later, and push the City Council toward supporting tree-preservation measures.
Also in New Mexico, Tree Doctor 911 tends to to a large stand of cottonwoods on a ranch about 15 miles north of Grants — trees that were planted in 1803 — as well as six 300-year-old apple trees in the same area.
He also has diagnosed and treated trees in, among other places, New Zealand, the South American Amazon and the Solomon Islands.
He and his Costa Rican project director, Liliana Sandoval, here temporarily to help with his growing Santa Fe business, recalled how they rescued a beloved but ailing tree in a Costa Rican village, saving it, for a short time at least, from deforesters who had already claimed about 7,000 trees.
“The people felt like the tree was a member of the family,” Sandoval said. “I saw tears.”
Thomas said his company takes what might be a considered a triage approach to saving trees and never sprays chemicals into the environment to treat a tree.
“We are in the tree-saving business,” Thomas said. “We are completely different from the other guys. We will take a tree down. But we try to talk people out of doing that, and we only do it as a last resort.”
Thomas cited his efforts to maintain and find new remedies drawn from nature.
“We are bee-friendly, we are environmentally-friendly.” Rather than spraying a tree with chemicals, Thomas will inject it with the appropriate pesticides or fungicides, or various minerals and nutrients to boost a tree’s immune system — including plant stem cells — “plants to heal plants.”
“We are always looking in our travels for answers that have been in use by indigenous populations,” he said. He cited indigenous people in the Amazon who use a resin-based substance from a tree to patch their canoes. It also turned out to be a way to seal tree wounds, especially when a branch is removed, Thomas said. It can be used instead of chemical-based paint, which can harm the tree.
“Where most tree companies look for a big guy that can handle a chain saw well,” Thomas said, “what we are doing is hiring biologists to research ways to save trees.”
He is building a research center in Costa Rica to find innovative ways to protect and save what he calls “the sentinels of our planet.”
Sandoval remembered walks among the trees with her grandfather in Costa Rica. “We go with him, and we are hugging and kissing the trees. My grandfather talked to the trees all the time.”
Thomas said he urges his clients to “feel the energy of the tree.”
In some ways, the Costa Rican research center is an extension of his father’s efforts in Clovis to find innovative ways to save trees. “I used to watch him inject quinine into trees. And being a kid, I just figured everybody did that. But not so.”
David Stoudt of Eldorado is one of the tree owners who Thomas managed to talk out of chopping down an ailing tree.
“The tree looked like it was dead,” Stoudt said of his 20-year-old Russian olive tree.
He said a local tree trimmer had apparently failed to clean his equipment from a previous job and infected the beloved 30-foot-tall tree with a fungus.
A few months after Thomas’ crew treated the tree, “It had leaves all over the place. … It gives all kinds of shades to the house,” Stoudt said.
Thomas said another Santa Fe client recently told him, “I didn’t even know you could heal a tree. I didn’t know you could fix them when they are broken.”