David Moore is a city forester at the New York City Parks Department and serves on the Executive Council of our NYS Urban Forestry Council. How did he get here? What’s great and challenging about it? What are some of his other passions and interests that might surprise you?
What were your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry? David Moore: Well, I never could have predicted that I’d be working in this field, but I always enjoyed trees and had an interest in biology. I can recall some really exciting science teachers in middle school and high school that helped spark my interest. By the time I was 12 or so, I started spending my summers at camp in the Adirondacks where I could ramble around the mountains and lakes and learn to be a real outdoorsman in all the primitive splendors of the North Country. Those experiences really laid the groundwork for my future path in forestry.
Please tell us about your educational trajectory. DM: Being very interested in environmental science, I applied to SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry without knowing too much about the school; my sister had told me about it and I noticed that they had majors with the word “forest” in it, so I was keen to try it out. I chose Forest Resources Management which had an intense science curriculum and there were 30,000 acres of experimental forest to explore and perform our laboratories in.
After a couple years, I realized that I didn’t want to live in the remote wilderness after all, and that maybe I should switch gears. During a semester abroad in London, England, I took some courses in public policy and government, landed an internship at Hampstead Heath (an 800-year-old, 800-acre park in London), and started to picture myself in big cities. I ended up working there as a park ranger for two summers and got to travel all around Europe for fun.
After college, I pursued a Master’s of Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington DC. I was hoping that this degree could complement my bachelor’s degree and help me step into the world of environmental policy, which is the application of science research and statistics to address large-scale public problems. I figured that what the world needs most is a mouthpiece for all the amazing scientific researchers working quietly behind the scenes, conversing in their somewhat insular communities. An advisor once told me to “put yourself at the crossroads of two different fields, and you’ll not only be in demand, but you’ll have a very exciting career.”
What has been your career trajectory? DM: So here I am in my graduate program at the crossroads of forestry and public policy, and I get connected with the MilliontreesNYC initiative through an introduction to Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project (NYRP). I moved up to New York City right as I graduated and the whole urban forestry profession really just fit me like a glove.
NYRP had just committed to plant hundreds of thousands of trees across the city—but they didn’t yet have an urban forestry department or a foundation in that specialty. They hired me and I had an incredible amount of work on my plate, but I managed to be resourceful and help build their new department based on resources I found with the help of professional peers, like the folks in the NYS Urban Forestry Council.
Beyond the NYRP position, I’ve also worked as a consultant for community forestry in the private sector. Eventually, I felt an urge to step up to the plate and work for local government with the skills I could serve people best with. So I applied to be a city forester at the New York City Parks Department, which is where I work now.
Can you tell us some about your current position? What are your favorite parts of the job? DM: As a city forester, I am in charge of orchestrating the planting of about two to three thousand street trees a year. I’m not just planting those trees to make the city more beautiful; I’m strategizing which types of trees should be planted in which locations in order to maximize their potential public health and environmental benefits. It’s a great combination of science and public policy, and I get to work outside about half the time, which makes me very happy.
Being a public servant has given me a great appreciation for the difficulty of government work, and facing these challenges has become my favorite part of my job. Now I see the government-citizen relationship from both sides, and I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to society in the way I know best.
It’s hard—I get scrutinized a lot, and my work is very meticulous. Not everyone in New York City has a great relationship with nature, or recognizes the interdependence of all living things, and many see trees as a nuisance. These people know how to find my phone number and I have to stand up for the cause on a daily basis. However, this is all very satisfying, not to mention it helps me build character. I feel like the Lorax sometimes, as funny as that may sound. But it keeps me inspired and motivated.
When did you first get involved with the NYSUFC, in what capacities have you participated/ served, and what has your involvement meant to you? DM: While looking for resources to help get NYRP’s urban forestry department off the ground, I got connected with NYSUFC Board Member Lori Brockelbank. Without ever having met me in person, Lori would spend 30 minutes at a time answering my questions about professional resources and literature necessary for my job. I am so grateful for that—she was a lifesaver.
Then I learned about the summer ReLeaf conference and I hit it off on a personal and professional level with attendees from across the state. I saw that this is an industry where people want each other to be successful beyond organizational boundaries, and that by banding together we all have a better chance of succeeding. You don’t get that sort of relationship in a lot of other industries. I think this is the best part of urban forestry and the Council.
I admired the leadership qualities of the Council members and wanted to reciprocate, so I started taking on more responsibilities and was nominated to board member in 2009, then executive committee member in 2010. It’s humbling to be a young guy on a team of established elders, but I can recognize how I can complement the existing progress with my own specialties and perspective. I’ve led some efforts on marketing, branding, and communications with the help of my wife, Leyla, who is an amazing graphic designer (www.leylamoore.com).
What do you see as NYSUFC’s greatest strength? Biggest challenge? DM: I think our greatest strength is the productive membership with positive attitudes and strong leadership qualities. They know how to make hard work fun and are too humble to even ask for credit. That’s inspiring. Being a relatively new organization, and urban forestry being a relatively new field, I think our biggest challenge is cultivating and engaging membership—but the future is looking bright.
When you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what urban forestry is, what is your 60-second answer? DM: That’s a good question and it depends who you are talking to. To one type of person, I’d say that it’s about providing quantifiable health and environmental benefits through the strategic management of growing, living infrastructure. To another, I might say that it’s about planting trees so that we have clean air to breathe. You have to gauge where someone is coming from before you decide how to approach the topic. Scientists like us sometimes go right over people’s heads with the technical jargon.
What are your interests in your free time? DM: I’m a DJ and dance music producer. That’s like my second job, and part of why I chose urban forestry over woodlands forestry. Seeing Bette Midler’s accomplishments in both music and environmentalism really helped validate my pursuits. I got to DJ for Bette’s Halloween Gala at the Waldorf-Astoria once. Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed some songs too. That was amazing. I’ve noticed that a lot of urban foresters in New York City are really into DJ music too, so we relate on that.
What’s something your NYSUFC colleagues might not know about you? DM: I’m the caretaker of my 116-acre family woodlot near Ticonderoga, NY in the Adirondacks. It’s been in the family for about 10 generations or so. I go up there and work with a local forester to make management plans. My paternal lineage is traced back to that region and they fought in the Revolutionary War; one of them was a member of the Green Mountain Boys, who were a militia group skilled in extreme altitude and extreme temperature warfare. They captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British, which was crucial to winning the war. My cousin still owns the farm that borders the Fort.
Do you have a favorite quote? DM: I like the Man in the Arena section of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship in a Republic.” I always refer to that when the going gets tough:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”