Get to Know Him! Board Member Shawn Spencer

teaching kids
Dad to two boys, Shawn Spencer (right) leads nature hikes with Cub Scouts, teaching them about trees and shrubs, animals, poison ivy ID, and Leave No Trace.

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.

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The Phenomenal, Interactive New York City Street Tree Map

NYC street tree map

 

Using data from the TreesCount! 2015 inventory, NYC Parks brings us the interactive New York City Street Tree Map, the world’s most extensive, accurate, and detailed tree map. With the Map, anyone can access data about any street tree in the City.

Users can learn about the inventory as a whole, including its quantifiable ecological benefits and predominant species, they can mark trees as favorites and share them with friends, and they can record their tree stewardship activities. They can find out ecological benefits of each individual tree; for instance, the Japanese pagoda tree at 213 E 73rd Street, provides the following benefits.

NYC pagoda tree benefits

 

CityLab, from The Atlantic, published a nice article about the project. Author Laura Bliss reports that “For more than a year, some 2,300 volunteers helped park officials survey more than 685,000 street trees across all five boroughs, gathering stats on species, bark health, trunk width, latitude and longitude, and—this was new—GPS coordinates for every one.”

The interactive New York City Street Tree Map that was created from that data is a marvel. It will surely inspire more of its kind.

 

Green Horizons Career Fair 2016: Introducing NYC Middle Schoolers to Urban Forestry & Other Environmental Careers

 

Green Horizons Environmental Education Day Brooklyn Botanical Gardens October 2010

Over 200 NYC middle school students, teachers, and guidance counselors enjoyed the 21st Green Horizons event on October 20th, 2016 in Central Park. New York City’s annual environmental and natural resources careers day continues to provide a free and hands-on experience for young people, working directly with professionals who volunteer their time to introduce careers they love.

Green Horizons Environmental Education Day Brooklyn Botanical Gardens October 2010

Rotating around the five boroughs, Green Horizons is intensely collaborative, combining the strengths of governmental agencies at all levels, private corporations, and not-for-profit organizations. This year, the host organization was Central Park Conservancy; 20 stations were sited around the Harlem Meer in the northern part of the Park. Among the various offerings, students learned about urban forestry, arboriculture, horticulture, landscape planning, geology, meteorology, entomology, wetlands management, and water quality monitoring.

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Bronx River Alliance & Partners to Restore Bronx River Forest

Bronx river restoration
The beautiful 23-mile Bronx River. Photo Courtesy Natural Areas Conservancy

This story comes to us from Bronx River Alliance Deputy Director Maggie Greenfield and Natural Areas Conservancy Communications and Public Outreach Manager Nicole Brownstein. 

The Bronx River has seen its fair share of history. It was first called the Aquehung, or “River of High Bluffs” by the local Native Americans. Two tribes, the Weckquaesgeek and Siwanoy, drank the river’s water, fished along its banks, and hunted in the surrounding woods. The river also held a spiritual significance for them and was a place for ritual baths each year. Jonas Bronck arrived in 1639, brokered a deal with the Native Americans for 500 acres along the river, and turned it into farmland.

Mills sprang up along the river, harnessing its energy and using it as a natural flowing sewer system. As the manufacturing industry fell into decline and the mills began to disappear, the river remained a dumping site for the surrounding communities. This was before we fully knew or cared about the effects of industrial and residential waste dumping.

It wasn’t until the environmental movement picked up in the mid-1970s that the restoration process began along the 23-mile river. In the late 1990s, the Bronx River Working Group was founded, with more than 60 community organizations and businesses combining efforts to orchestrate work along the river. The spirit of this effort led to the creation of the Bronx River Alliance, a group dedicated to restoring the waterway. When they began their work, these activists found objects as bizarre as refrigerators, tires, and even a wine press in the river. Today the river’s health is returning, evidenced by the long-awaited appearance of river herring, American eel, eastern oyster, and beavers. But our work is not yet done.

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NYC Arbor Day Project, with Youth Growing & Planting 234 Trees

 

Magella Owen and Rajesh from HS of American Studies at Lehman College. by Anthony Thoman
Students from the High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx plant an evergreen on campus. The students are left to right: Magella Sheehan, Owen McFadzean, and Rajesh Persad. Photo by Anthony Thoman

Due to spring holidays, schools in New York City adopted May 6th as NYC Arbor Day. On that Friday last spring, most of the 59 participating schools planted their trees, which included flowering dogwoods, redbuds, wild cherries, maples, Colorado spruces, red oaks, black walnuts, river birches, honey locusts and black pines. Also planting were Urban Park Rangers at Inwood Hill Park, which is part of NYC Parks & Recreation.

planting Sophia
Kindergartners in Pat Evens’s class at PS 174 in Queens plant a redbud tree they named Sophia. Photo by Pat Evens

The total number of trees planted was 234, which had been grown to size and carefully tended by students and teachers at John Bowne High School in Flushing, Queens. Students at Bowne participate in the Plant Science and Animal Science programs at this high school. The tree nursery is part of a small farm that is also home to animals, greenhouses, an orchard, and vegetable planting beds.

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Flood Damage to Trees after Hurricane Sandy: Lessons and Surprises

Robert Simpson public domain
Section of Long Island following Hurricane Sandy photographed by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson. Photo in the public domain.

by Michelle Sutton

The 2016 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season officially began June 1, with meteorologists offering varying opinions about how much activity we in the eastern U.S. will see. Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) savaged tree populations with both high winds and flooding. Sandy brought one storm surge of salt water that retreated with the same day’s tides. What were some of the impacts and lessons learned? We hear from a veteran arborist on Long Island and from a former NYC urban forester.

What are the major reasons flooding is so punishing for trees? Dr. Kamran Abdollahi, professor of forest ecophysiology in the urban forestry program at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, explains that flooding fills soil pores, denying tree roots access to the oxygen they need for respiration and water and nutrient uptake. Dr. Abdollahi says, “In the urban environment where soils are already compacted by human activities, flooding exacerbates compaction and its negative effects. Flooding can also negatively affect root anchoring and tree stability.”

Long Island
Arborist Joel Greifenberger is the owner of Valley Tree and Landscape in Long Beach, Long Island. Valley has planted more than 25,000 trees for NYC in over 25 years. Greifenberger says that on Long Beach, Hurricane Sandy brought several feet of salt water on land, “bay to ocean,” for about 12 hours. That brief flooding event left dramatic damage to the region’s trees, with some surprising victims.

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TreesCount! 2015: NYC’s Third Street-Tree Census

 

TreesCount! training
At TreesCount! 2015 orientation events, NYC Parks staff and their partners met with volunteer citizen scientists to talk about how the ongoing census helps the City, how citizen scientists can participate in the data collection, and how the census methodology works in the field.

by Charles Cochran, Street Tree Census Coordinator and Ben Greer, TreesCount!2015 Assistant Coordinator, NYC Parks and Recreation
~Infographic by Peter Tiso and Annie Weinmayr
~Photos Courtesy of NYC Parks

TreesCount! 2015 is the third decadal inventory of NYC’s street trees. This is the first tree census to use volunteer citizen scientists to be the primary data collectors. Individuals who have mapped went through a full training process with NYC Parks Census staff, mapped in “events” with other volunteers or mapped independently. Community partners ranging from environmental non-profits, business improvement districts, youth groups and community boards have also played a key role in training and engaging volunteers to map their neighborhoods. Volunteers have mapped 200,000 trees, 30% of the city, since May 2015.

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Kristy King and NYC Forest Restoration: Dreaming Big for the City’s Natural Areas

Kristy King on a trip to India.
Kristy King on a trip to India.

Kristy King is the Director of Forest Restoration for the Natural Resources Group of NYC Parks. Here we get to know Kristy and the work that her department does to bring degraded land back to life in the surprisingly diverse range of natural areas of New York City.

Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in forest restoration work? 
Kristy King: I’ve always been interested in biology and used to explore the woods and streams behind my house in Columbia, SC. I can’t say that I was on track to work in forest restoration from a young age, but I’ve always been fascinated by the outdoors and felt that nature is an important part of the human experience. When studying biology in high school, ecology fascinated me the most due to the profound interconnectedness of life and the environment. I was so blown away by the complexity of it all and knew I wanted to dig deeper.

Can you tell us about your educational and career trajectory?
King: I studied Biology (focus on botany and ecology) at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and graduated in 2003. At that point I felt unsure about my trajectory and worked for some months as a florist and a field assistant performing vegetation surveys in the cypress swamps of Francis Marion National Forest, north of Charleston.

I then scored an entry level job with NOAA/National Ocean Service as a marine biologist (basically a lab technician) studying the ecological impacts of harmful algal blooms. I did that for three years and while it was very cool, I didn’t feel personally invested in the field and didn’t want to work as a laboratory scientist for my entire career.

I started independently exploring subfields in ecology and was quite taken by urban ecology both because I personally wanted to live in a big city and because I felt excited about the potential impacts of performing science and management where so many people live!

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