FEATURED TREE INSPECTOR:
What is your current professional position?
I'm the area manager of our Davey Resource Group office in Minnesota. I am out doing consulting on a regular basis as well as tree risk assessment and managing. That's pretty typical whether you're a one person operation or a company, you kind of continue to keep working with trees, in addition to other duties, of course.
What first got you interested in trees, and when did you realize you could have a career working with trees?
I knew about forestry when I was a little kid, actually. My uncle was a forester for the US Fish and Wildlife Service based in Alaska and he had graduated from the College of Forestry back in the 1960s. So, I was aware of forestry, but more in the traditional sense and I knew that I did not want to live in a rural setting. I definitely wanted to be in an urban setting. For me, it was not just solely about trees, it was really about connecting trees and people, so having that connection to make a difference was really important to me.
What is your educational background?
I changed my major several times in college before I really figured it out. I knew I wanted to work outdoors, but the job market in the early 1990s was pretty tough. Ultimately, I ended up transferring from UMD down to the U of M and getting into urban forestry. I started at the same time as Gary Johnson started at the U.
I finished my undergraduate and then took about a year off and worked for the Tree Trust as an intern. Then I returned to graduate school, and I designed a program that included a Masters of Science in forestry with an emphasis in education. I focused on computer based learning and developed a computer program that connected the outdoors and technology, providing another avenue of learning for those kids who enjoy both the outdoors and technology. I also designed the first website for Tree Trust with all html coding at that time, because there was no WordPress.
What makes online education impactful or what features of online or digital education around trees works for folks?
I know that a lot of us that are doing urban forestry and regular forestry are very driven towards the outdoors, but I see online education as another way to engage people and promote learning. The traditional textbooks are a source we all learn from. However, there's just so many more options now that are available and I think that, especially for the visual learners, having some type of online presence with videos is more impactful than simply having to read the old textbooks. You certainly learn things from reading books, but I've always been a hands-on and visual learner, so online education was definitely more stimulating to me than simply just memorizing formulas.
When did you first become a tree inspector?
In 1994, when I first became a tree inspector, there were a lot of job opportunities for seasonal tree inspectors with cities. That was a typical path, so I got a license and my first job was with the City of Plymouth as a seasonal tree inspector. That was a fun job and I had previously spent summers working at summer camps with kids, so it definitely felt like it was a needed step that I had to make in urban forestry. I liked it, but just looking at trees every day and inspecting for Dutch elm disease and oak wilt made me want some more variety.
Are the issues different today than in the past?
I don't think so. There continues to be urban forest impacts from different types of shade tree disease, insects, and disease problems. There's not as much Dutch Elm disease, of course, but for most cities there's still oak wilt. I’m still doing a lot of oak wilt inspection for some municipalities, and I’m doing a lot of public education on a contract basis for cities too. That's really where the tree inspector program comes in, not just from the enforcement side which is needed for a lot of communities, but it's really that public education side of things. For example, letting people know this is what a red oak looks like or these are the challenges that you can have with oak wilt and with EAB, etc. People are still asking how to identify an ash tree and whether it is susceptible to emerald ash borer. It's amazing how we might think that everybody knows about EAB, but they don't. It's shocking. They still don't know how to ID a tree, what the susceptibility issues are in their community, or the insect pressure.
Do you see that the landscape has changed in terms of cities and tree inspectors?
Yes, significantly. I think there's probably only a few cities that are still hiring on a seasonal basis, and I think that largely changed when some of the model ordinances changed. There wasn't a requirement for many cities to have to maintain a shade tree disease program. There's still some cities that have maintained it, but many have let it kind of go by the wayside.
You say that they were required to have an ordinance, was that state based?
Yes, which has changed. There was a statute written in the 1970s that the cities had to have a shade tree disease program and inspect for Dutch elm disease, and oak wilt was added to that in the 80s. Probably by the 2000s that really changed, and it was more a voluntary basis to maintain those programs.
With the other professional certifications you have, what inspires you to keep the tree inspector certification?
I'm an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, Municipal Specialist, and have the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ). I'm still doing tree inspecting for cities, so even though I've got those other international credentials, I still think it's important to support the state tree inspector program. I think there's value in showing that the state is still providing that education, and it's a great way to get into the field as well.
Currently, the certification curriculum is primarily Dutch elm disease, oak wilt, emerald ash borer, and best planting practices. Are there things that you think would be beneficial for the program to include in the base certification?
When I think of basic tree care, I think about basic insect and disease diagnostics. I also think watering and mulching probably get just as many questions as how to plant correctly, so those are things that are important to talk to residents about. The first thing is to just get a tree started off right, but it doesn't stop at just putting it in the ground and walking away. Even some basic understanding of pruning, especially with all the elms, is important too. I think there's going to be a lot of opportunities for even more planting because of potential federal funds that will go into tree planting, like the 1 Trillion Trees Campaign. It is great to plant trees and get them in the ground correctly, but proper care is super important as well.
What is Women in Arboriculture and are there ways for folks to get involved if they’re interested?
The Women in Arboriculture program started as an ISA initiative primarily focused on creating an opportunity for women tree climbers to network. It has since expanded over the years to just be a more general program for women in arboriculture. It started at the national level and continues to be a group that convenes at the ISA conference each year, whether it's online or in person. There's been some other groups that have formed from that. Rebecca Johnson hosts a monthly Women in Arboriculture networking Zoom meeting that includes people from all over the country and Canada. They get together and talk about challenges that they face in the job which creates opportunities to support each other. That continues on a national level currently, and they meet the second Tuesday of every month. That's open to everybody, it doesn't certainly need to be just women.
Locally we've done some things as well. Through the Minnesota Society of Arboriculture we hosted a two day Women in Arboriculture conference which was held in 2014 or 2015. There's also been some further efforts with MSA. We hosted a breakfast, and I’d definitely like to see some more opportunities locally to try and help connect women. While it's great to have national opportunities, it is certainly great to do some things locally as well. I would see that there's going to be even more things happening in the future as we try to increase more opportunities for women in the industry.
Are there any specific websites or social media that you could point folks to?
If you Google Women in Arboriculture you'll come up with a main page with the ISA:
I would suggest checking out the Women in Arboriculture Zoom session hosted by Rebecca Johnson as well. She can be found on LinkedIn and the link to those sessions is:
Here are some links to different Facebook groups:
How are you currently involved with the Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee (MnSTAC)?
First off, I got involved with MnSTAC basically right after college. It was a way to connect and meet people in the industry, and connect to some job opportunities. I've stayed involved with MnSTAC in different capacities over the years. Currently, I'm on the board representing the commercial sector, and I'm also chairing the outreach committee. Having that passion of wanting to connect people and provide resources has reinvigorated the outreach committee. We started meeting late last year and probably have about nine people that meet every other month.
We recently completed a survey to find out what some of the needs are for communities in the metro as well as greater Minnesota, and we are working on putting together some articles that will be put up on the MnSTAC website. MnSTAC has evolved since the 70s from an advocacy organization for the public to more of a professionals group, so connecting with the public and finding out what the needs of the community are is something we have to circle back to.
What kind of activities do you enjoy when you aren’t working?
I enjoy canoeing, hiking, camping and exploring different parts of the country with my family. Now that my kids are almost done with high school, there's a lot of cool adventures that they're able to do as well, so it's fun brainstorming different parts of the country to visit and hike. My son is really interested in the outdoors, so it's been fun to see him get excited about finding state parks or other places we can go check out. We're trying to get to the Boundary Waters this year. You know summer is a busy time, though, so it's kind of this balance between doing a cool summer trip and then, of course, working. We did get to Alaska last year to visit some relatives. Even though it was during the pandemic, we were able to get there safely. I’ve also gotten into a lot more gardening this past year.
Every five years, the University of Minnesota conducts a needs assessment of the MN Tree Inspector Certification Program by surveying current Tree Inspectors about what's happening in their communities. The goal of this needs assessment is to ensure educational offerings are inline with the issues that exist within Minnesota's community forests and those working to manage them. The current needs assessment survey was conducted during 2019 and 2020. Surveys were distributed at Tree Inspector workshops and online via the Tree Inspector email list.
This article will provide an overview of complications resulting from a historical practice called “redlining”. In the 1930s, the Homeowners Loan Corporation (HOLC) created and distributed maps of 239 cities in the US which categorized investment risk by neighborhoods based upon racist ideologies (Aaronson, cited in Hoffman et al.). Due to the guidance of these HOLC maps, banks and insurance companies then either refused or raised rates on loans or homeowners insurance for residents in neighborhoods designated with a red line on the map. People living in redlined areas experienced a great reduction in personal access to credit, and therefore, these neighborhoods suffered from a lack of investment. In redlined areas, homes lost value, and personal credit scores decreased more than similar neighborhoods in cities that did not receive HOLC maps. The legacy of these maps lives on in many ways, and redlined areas are still home to more low-income individuals and People of Color than neighborhoods which received positive HOLC ratings (Mitchell, cited in Hoffman et al.).
HOLC zoning has also been correlated with urban tree canopy density. Hoffman investigated the correlation between HOLC zones and current impervious surface and tree canopy cover and found that the redlined areas still have significantly less canopy cover and more impervious surfaces (1). There are many likely reasons for this observation. Lower land values in redlined areas likely incentivized future development of large buildings, infrastructure like highways, and other impervious surfaces (1). Additionally, neighborhoods with wealthier residents had the resources to prioritize “beautification” and air purification investments like planting urban forests.
The disparities in land cover type between HOLC map zones is relevant because land cover type influences urban heat patterns. One of the many benefits of high functioning urban forests is their ability to prevent or counteract negative effects of urban heat islands (UHI). Urban heat islands are a phenomenon of urbanization where temperatures in urban areas are relatively higher than in rural areas (2). Generally speaking, UHI effect is caused by changes in the built and natural environment found only in urban areas (2). High local temperatures in urban areas can be attributed to an increase in impervious surfaces like concrete (Li, cited in Hoffman et al.), whereas urban green areas like forests and lakes are associated with lower temperatures (1). The strength of urban heat island effect varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood based on land cover characteristics.
Additionally, limited canopy cover increases the UHI effects like extreme heat (1), which comes with health risks. These health risks include heat-related illnesses like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and in extreme cases result in death (3). UHI effects tend to impact areas with lower tree canopy strongest. As noted earlier, redlined areas have significantly lower amounts of tree canopy cover and are inhabited by more People of Color. This puts People of Color at a higher risk for death from extreme heat. A preventable death.
Tree canopy can also influence community feelings of safety and wellbeing. A study conducted in Norway found that increased tree canopy in a neighborhood had a significant positive correlation with the perceived safety of a neighborhood (4). Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) continue to be killed by prejudiced, fearful, violent, and inexperienced law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers’ assessments of neighborhood safety are likely colored by the amount of tree canopy in an area, which could influence their actions. For neighborhoods lacking tree canopy, outsiders and residents alike will have inaccurate negative perceptions about the safety of their community. Understandably, these negative perceptions can impact the well-being of residents.
Well-supported correlations link BIPOC populations to previous redlining areas, redlining to decreased tree canopy, decreased tree canopy to perceived safety, decreased tree canopy to stronger UHI effect, and stronger UHI effect to negative health outcomes. These correlations suddenly reveal some ways that our urban forest distribution has been influenced by and perpetuates racist practices in US history. These practices influence the daily lives and health of people living and working in urban areas. The negative health effects from Urban Heat Islands are a human welfare issue. These deaths can and should be prevented.
In lieu of a simple action that will solve this whole problem, I ask you to do the following: