Drew Rojek has been the Keuka College Grounds Manager for just over a year. With Rojek’s leadership, the College recently celebrated its first year as a Tree Campus USA, one of just 22 in the state of New York. Originally from Buffalo, Rojek lives in Canandaigua with his wife Dana and two daughters—Ava, 4, and Lainey, 18 months.
Rojek received his BS in Biology from Gannon University in Erie, PA, and his Master of Landscape Architecture from Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore, MD. While pursuing the latter, he worked on the grounds department of MSU and after graduation worked for a design-build company as an LA doing mostly residential design work.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry? Navé Strauss: I grew up in suburban Long Island with a father who is an arborist. My parents are both strong advocates of being outside and enjoying nature, and my father’s profession supplemented my relationship with the outdoors, peppering it with knowledge of trees and insects by default. I never thought I would end up an arborist, and didn’t know I’d be leading an incredible tree planting program in my home city, but here I am and I’m extremely humbled by the opportunity to serve and share my experience, just as my father did and does with me.
Please tell us about your educational and career trajectories. NS: I graduated from St Lawrence University in Canton NY in 2008 with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies and an emphasis in Forestry. I started as a forester with NYC Parks soon thereafter in early 2009 and have continued my trajectory ever since, becoming a senior forester in 2014 and then director of the street tree planting program as of April 2016.
What do you enjoy so far about your current position? What are some challenges? NS: I love the challenges themselves—the juxtaposition between the natural and built environs and the cultural diversity of the City that leads to many good conversations with residents who are passionate about trees—or about not having trees. In all, I enjoy the complexity of the tasks at hand, how they fold into our mission, and navigating the ship while learning from my superiors, peers, and staff.
What are a few things people might be surprised to know about street tree planting in NYC? NS: We plant over 150 unique cultivars of trees in our public rights-of-way on an annual basis! That is an insane number, and we are extremely proud of our accomplishments in helping to diversify the City’s urban forest.
What is your ultimate vision for the NYC street tree planting program? NS: To continue the upward arch of being the best street tree planting program in the world and to assure each and every New Yorker that every tree being planted is done so with every consideration in mind, even the ones they haven’t thought of (leave that to us). Finally, to know that each tree is set up to survive and thrive after our two-year establishment period has ended.
What are your interests in your free time? NS: Cooking, reading, spending time with my loved ones, and playing guitar. I have many guitars, and I recognize that it’s a problem, but I am not ready to stop collecting.
Anything else you want to be sure to share? NS: Talking to New Yorkers about the best slice of pizza is risky business—be prepared to hunker down and listen. Is it the sauce, the dough, the cheese, or the toppings? Many differ, even those who agree on politics.
NYSUFC Board Member Rachel Holmes is the coordinator of The Nature Conservancy’s urban forestry program called Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities. She is also a Flamenco dancer and a wildland firefighter (read on!).
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry? Rachel Holmes: I grew up in Clifton, New Jersey on a street that was lined with a diverse mix of mature trees that had been planted by a previous generation of homeowners. I remember riding my bike over heaved sidewalks and imagining that I was racing in a BMX course. When I was in fifth grade, the town decided to redo all the sidewalks. Rather than work around the trees, they took them all down! I actually went outside to yell at the men removing the trees. Concerned for my safety, my Mom actually took me away because I think she was afraid I would throw myself in between the workers and the trees.
I was driven away from my tree-lined street and came back to … nothing. It was a pretty painful experience and at the same time, a seminal moment in my appreciation of trees. Because I had been surrounded by trees in my early childhood, I knew what I was missing when they were taken down. It is important to me now to do what I can to help prevent other people from experiencing this.
The City replaced some of the trees with flowering pears, many of which came down in storms, including ours. A few years ago, I helped my parents pick out a good specimen of eastern redbud that is doing really well; my Mom and Dad frequently text me photos of it.
While I gained an early appreciation for urban nature, I was fortunate to experience what some would call the “wild” at a much bigger scale. Starting in sixth grade, I worked on my aunt and uncle’s ranch in Colorado, learning the ins and outs of ranch management including Western horsemanship. The ranch abutted Pike National Forest which is where I was first exposed to managed forests. This is also where I first witnessed the impacts of wildfire on forest ecosystems.
Landscape architect and longtime Council Board Member Art Traver works for Wendel Companies out of their Buffalo office.
Were there childhood influences foreshadowing your career? Art Traver: I think I first noticed the “environment” when I was in Boy Scouts. Our troop had their own camp in Wyoming County. My interest really kicked in when our family took over the camp property in the 80s. As we started to manage the property, I began to notice the stands of hardwoods, softwoods, and evergreens.
What has been your educational trajectory leading to arboriculture? AT: I would say I fell into arboriculture. I worked at local nurseries and garden centers growing up. When I started college at Alfred State, I studied architecture and then civil engineering but at the time, neither of these seemed appealing enough to pursue. I took some time away from school and worked for myself in the landscape design-build world. I found my way to Niagara County Community College and received a certificate for horticulture. Getting back into school got the learning bug going, so I found myself back at Alfred State, this time in the horticulture/landscape development program. After receiving my associate’s degree from Alfred, I enrolled at SUNY-ESF for landscape architecture and received my BLA.
Council Board Member Mike DeMarco attended the 2017 Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI) on scholarship from the Council and NYSDEC. MFI is an immersive, weeklong leadership training for urban forestry professionals. Here, we learn about DeMarco’s takeaways from MFI, his current position, and his work and educational background.
DeMarco says, “I would like to give a big shout out and thank you to the New York State Urban Forestry Council and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Without the support and positive push from members of these organizations, I would not have been able to take part in MFI 2017.”
Mike DeMarco: Prior to any thought of a career in urban forestry, I spent most of my early and mid-20’s following an obsession with creating music and working as a master control operator at WWNY- TV7, a local news station in my hometown of Watertown, NY. After a few years of work in TV, I felt that something was missing in my life—that is, until 2008 when I found Tree Watertown (Watertown’s Street Tree Advisory Board). I began attending meetings and quickly discovered my love for the urban forest.
Before I knew it, I was being mentored by two individuals that have since played a huge part in my journey. They encouraged me to pursue higher education and in the fall of 2012, I graduated from SUNY-ESF with a BS in Natural Resource Management and a minor in Urban Forestry.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in conservation, trees, and urban forestry? Brenda Cagle: Growing up in West Virginia in the Ohio Valley surrounded by those beautiful hills must have been the beginning, for I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel connected to trees, hills, or nature in general. It’s kind of a spiritual thing like watching a fire burn or looking at the ocean. Anyone who grows up there learns this first line to the state song: “Oh the West Virginia Hills, how majestic and how grand.” (Go Mountaineers!!)
When and how did you first get involved with NYSUFC? In what ways have you participated, and what has your involvement meant to you? BC: I first joined NYSUFC in 2003 and became a board member in 2006 probably at Mary’s urging—don’t we all? I co-chaired the Region 3 ReLeaf Committee for several years with our regional forester, Lou Sebesta. It has definitely been a two-way street participating as a volunteer. I have been able to share our experiences in Red Hook with other communities as well learn from all the other members, professional and volunteer alike. Of course, I believe that Region 3* rocks! Friendly regional competition only brings us together. *[Region 3 is Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties.]
Dr. Ed Gilman is a popular presenter among NY arborists and members of our state’s U&CF community, giving talks based on his decades of applied research at the University of Florida (UFL) and countless field observations and conversations with arborists. Gilman retired from UFL in July but— happily for our industry—he is going to continue doing education in the field, especially with commercial arborists around proper pruning techniques. The resources he created on UFL’s website for pruning and all things related to trees and other landscape plants are phenomenal—more about those later.
How is the transition to semi-retirement going? Ed Gilman: Retirement allowed me to step back and take a break from writing; after 120 scientific publications and 35 years of tearing trees apart, I felt it was someone else’s turn. I’ll have more time now to do education in the field with commercial arborists—sharing the practical fruits of my research and that of my colleagues, which I really enjoy. I stay involved with ISA Florida and with the ANSI Pruning Standards committee. It’s nice to remain plugged in and relevant. What would be particularly gratifying is if I could get more people doing what I’m doing in terms of the education of commercial arborists. Stay tuned for more on that.
Please tell us about childhood influences that may have foreshadowed your career. Shawn Spencer: I was born in upstate New York but grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Our neighborhood had lots of trees in it and backed up to fallow farmland that was being overrun with pioneer trees. My parents were big into landscaping, so we maintained many different trees on our yard. I climbed in them, raked the leaves and needles, and helped prune them. Mom was a nurse and Dad an electrical engineer; neither sat behind a desk for work, and I knew I didn’t want to, either. I started taking all the science and biology classes I could take in junior and senior high school. I was also very active with my Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop, earning nearly all of the Natural Resource-based merit badges and doing all sorts of environmental/conservation service projects. I was good with a double bit axe and could start a fire in a Virginia rainstorm but was equally good with a shovel to plant more trees and shrubs.
Can you tell us about childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in forestry and urban forestry? Eric Greenfield: I grew up in Delhi, New York in the western Catskills. Delhi is small community surrounded by agriculture and forests and is home to one of the SUNY campuses.
Growing up, my interaction with nature was primarily through family camping and Boy Scouts (Troop 33). My father was a professor at SUNY Delhi, so our summers were filled with family camping trips, mostly throughout upstate New York. Unlike the typical Boy Scout troop meetings, our troop met twice a month over weekends at the troop leader’s camp in the woods. Most of my “woods” skills—like tree ID, wildlife tracking, survival skills, and ecological awareness—were developed there. In relation to urban forestry, some of my most vivid memories are of the large American elms in Delhi and the community mourning their loss when they were removed because of Dutch elm disease.
My dad was very active in our church and in community service. Participating in activities with him really helped to build my appreciation for service to neighbor, nature stewardship, and spirituality in nature. I was fortunate to be selected to participate in the American Legion Boy’s State as a teenager, and that experience helped shape my interest in the positive role of government.
I like to think that forestry (and especially urban forestry) augmented my focus on public service. The transition was natural as my appreciation of the working landscape in the Catskills grew.
Tim is semi-retired and a NYSUFC Board member. He works part-time as an adjunct forestry professor at Paul Smith’s College and consulting forester and is co-chair of the Lake Placid/North Elba Tree Board.
What led you into arboriculture and urban forestry? Tim Chick: I was raised in northern New Jersey but attended and eventually worked at a wilderness boys’ camp in the southern Adirondacks from age 10 until I finished college. I fell in love with the North Country and by age 14 I knew I’d be a forester. I went to Michigan Tech in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a forest management degree.
After graduation in 1963, I moved to Detroit to take care of family obligations and was fortunate to find a forestry supervisor’s job with the City of Detroit. Up until that time I didn’t even know cities had foresters! It was quite a shock to go from cruising timber in the woods to inspecting trees along busy city streets. Detroit had an enormous street and park tree population and 17 professional foresters to manage their care. I received excellent technical mentoring from the forestry staff and patient training from the work crew foremen. I was then placed in charge of tree care for a quarter of the city. Talk about having to learn quickly! While I still had fantasies of returning to woods forestry, I was hooked by the challenges of urban work.