Getting to Know Brian Skinner, our Council VP

Upstate NY 181Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture and urban forestry, and about your education? Brian: Both my grandfathers were heavy into gardening, and I spent many a day helping them with vegetables, fruit, and flowers. My dad was active in the Boy Scouts when he grew up and continued through adulthood, so I was with him in Scouts until I went to college. I spent most of my free time at Scout camp, working in and enjoying the blessings of Mother Nature.

I spent four years at SUNY ESF and got my bachelor’s degree in Resources Management, then I spent a year and a half logging, then the past 42 years “practicing” arboriculture … and hoping to get good at it someday!

Can you tell us about your current position? As senior arborist for the upstate NY Central division of National Grid on the distribution forestry side of the business, I’m responsible for helping to manage more than 16,000 miles of overhead electric distribution lines; managing our divisional hazard tree management crews; managing our UNY community forestry commitment, including our “10,000 Trees and Growing” tree planting contribution program; and having a corporate presence by being an active member on a number of industry related professional organizations and committees (including NYSUFC).

Brian says, "Here I am at my summer desk."
Brian says, “Here I am … at my summer desk.” Brian staffs exhibits for National Grid, NYS Arborists ISA Chapter, and other organizations.

When did you first get involved with the NYSUFC, in what capacities have you served, and what has your involvement meant to you? I started by attending the 2002 annual ReLeaf conference in Brooklyn and meetings lots of interesting and unique people of like interests.  I volunteered to help out managing the financial side of the following year’s conference in Utica … and then the rest snowballed downhill from there. I ended up somehow getting involved with the executive committee, and I must have raised my hand at some point when I sneezed and was volunteered to run as VP. The rest, as they say, is history!

I most appreciate the way that the Council has helped the state legislature better understand and appreciate the workings of community groups, professionals, and volunteers in many of our urban forestry efforts across the state. This has resulted in many positive things, especially in increasing the EPF grants and getting greater community participation in both grants and the ReLeaf conferences.

What do you see as NYSUFC’s greatest strength? Biggest challenge? Our greatest strength is in our community involvement (regional ReLeaf groups, local tree committees, interested volunteer groups, etc.) and supporting the advancement of local tree care and tree planting programs, both municipally organized/funded ones and those that are grass-roots-based.

Our biggest challenges ahead, I feel, are complacency on the part of those that make funding decisions in government, no appreciation or under-appreciation for all the good works done by the volunteers, Council funding, growing our membership, and dealing with invasive pest issues and making sure the public is aware and educated about them.

Can you tell a story from your Tour des Trees involvement that sticks with you? I was most involved when the TREE Fund’s Tour des Trees came through our upstate NY area in 2003, when they spent about 90% of their time in our National Grid service area. In 2013, the NY portion of the tour started in Niagara Falls, coming to Rochester, the Finger Lakes, Syracuse, Watertown, and exiting back into Canada from Cape Vincent—again, about 90% of National Grid’s service area.

just brian
Brian Skinner (R) with Mary DiCarlo of the TREE Fund and National Grid rider Craig Allen at the Cape Vincent boat launch in 2013.

As a company, we support the research efforts supported by the Fund and benefit from those research results in our policies, procedures, ergonomics, practices, equipment, and safety for our contractors, which in turn benefits our industry and customers. We helped coordinate the joint efforts with the NYS Arborists ISA Chapter to assure riders a safe, worthwhile, memorable time in upstate NY.

I was amazed when a rider who has done ten consecutive Tours so far thanked me for all that was done to focus on and support them in their ride. He said he’d never seen such widespread support along the Tour route and such vocal, local participation! Apparently, we’ve raised the bar for others to follow!

When you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what urban forestry is, and you only have about 60 seconds to answer, what do you say? First, let me know where that is so I can get an invite! Second, casual or business casual? It’s easy to relate how urban forestry is the professional management of all the other trees in our communities beyond the forest—street, park, and even (on a large scale) your yard trees! I explain that if someone doesn’t look out for them and plan for their future, their ability to be that unique renewable resource is severely compromised, if not doomed!

What are your interests in your free time? With four married kids and seven grandchildren, need I say more? I do occasionally get involved doing woodworking projects and being the supplemental labor force for my wife’s perennial gardening activities.

Skinner family
Brian on left with his children Melissa, Tracy, Kevin, and Brianne and six of his seven grandkids. Brian’s wife Diane took the photo.

What’s something your NYSUFC colleagues might not know about you? I’m a registered consulting arborist with the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA), and I’ve coordinated the education booth at the NYS Fair for the NYS Arborists ISA Chapter for 36 straight years!

Do you have a favorite quotation? “Always leave a place better than when you came.”

Anything else you want to be sure to share? Our volunteers need to realize that there ARE people out there that really do appreciate what they do … they just don’t show their appreciation well. But WE DO appreciate the volunteers in our organization, and we thank them for all their hard work and dedication.

2 thoughts on “Getting to Know Brian Skinner, our Council VP

  1. Great presentation….Brian..would like to talk to you about what we are doing at the Hewlett Woodmere Sch. Dist. Community Gardens and tree Nursery…..a similar but different version of Nancy’s successful tree grow out station at John Bowne. Best wishes, Bob Sympson

  2. I have had the pleasure to know Brian for many years. One of the things that I most look forward to is the time that we spend together volunteering at the NYS Arborist. Brian is surly one of the most knowledgeable treemen I have come to know and those of you who have also spent time with him would agree. I may not be the Lorax but I will speak for the trees and say thanks Brian for all you have done for us!

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