Environmental consultant Karen Emmerich serves on the NYSUFC Board, on the Region 3 ReLeaf Committee, and as Tree Commission Chair for the Town of Warwick. Last February, the Council provided a partial scholarship for Karen to attend the Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI), a weeklong leadership training for urban forestry professionals and their affiliates.
“Without hesitation, I would encourage anybody who is in the urban forestry field to attend MFI,” she says. “Do whatever you have to do to get there! I found it so incredibly valuable.” She says the leadership skill building and the networking were the most meaningful to her. She especially urges young people to go, to get the benefits of MFI early in their career. More about Karen’s MFI experience later.
Karen lives in Warwick with her husband Kurt. Together they own Emmerich Tree Farm, which specializes in Christmas trees and also provides a scenic setting for weddings. Kurt grew up on the land, having planted thousands of trees on the property with his parents and siblings in the 1960s and 70s. The Scotch pines around the ponds and the Norway and White spruce around the property were planted by the family with trees from NYSDEC’s Saratoga nursery. “I’m only a ‘junior partner’ in Emmerich Tree Farm,” Karen says, which is good since she is busy working in stormwater planning both as a consultant (Freshwater Environmental Consultants) and for Lehman & Getz Consulting Engineers.
In addition to working for engineering firms since achieving her MS in Water Resource Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about thirty years ago, Karen worked for NY State for a legislative commission on water resources in Long Island. She first connected with the NYSUFC when she and her friend—and now fellow Council board member—the landscape architect Karen Arent, attended a Region 3 ReLeaf workshop in 2010. The workshop was about GIS as it relates to urban forestry and was held at Lasdon Arboretum in Westchester County during peak azalea bloom. “It was such a wonderful evening, and friendly people like Mary Kramarchyk, Brenda Cagle, and Nancy Guski encouraged us to come to the annual ReLeaf Conference.”
How does urban forestry tie in with Karen’s consulting work? She says, “It helps me a great deal in my stormwater consulting, where trees are an integral part of bioretention areas, rain gardens, vegetated swales … I was always interested in urban trees but getting more deeply into stormwater management naturally lead to expanding my knowledge of trees.” Karen has also gotten involved with different municipalities who ask her to write grant applications or help them select trees or address tree-sidewalk conflicts. “It’s extremely varied and I’m thrilled that my career took this turn,” she says.
Karen attended the 2010 Conference in Geneva and soon after, became involved with the Region 3 ReLeaf Committee, which she co-chairs with DEC Senior Forester George Profous. Some of the Committee’s pursuits have included organizing ReLeaf workshops and publication of a 2016 calendar of photos of beautiful or unusual trees of the Hudson Valley, with pruning and other tree care information on each page (“George did a fantastic job spearheading that,” Karen says). The Committee is also interested in pursuing and promoting Beyond-the-Right-of-Way (BROW) to municipalities, which Al Wegener wrote a terrific post about here on the Blog.
In 2015 Karen joined the NYSUFC Board. Fellow Board Members Lori Brockelbank (MFI alum) and Andy Hillman (MFI Teaching Cadre Member) urged Karen to attend MFI. The two of them went to the Council’s Executive Committee and helped secure the funding for a partial scholarship.
Karen says the most surprising thing about MFI was “how quickly a group of people who have never met before can bond and become so cohesive,” she says. “We were there a week and by day two, our peer learning group was really tight.” Ostensibly the participants were there for leadership development—and Karen says her own leadership skills definitely got a boost—but she says she also got so much out of the informal conversations with people in our field from such diverse places as British Columbia, California, and Georgia. “Hearing about the programs and policies in their municipalities gave me a lot of ideas to bring back to Warwick,” she says.
Karen has extensive experience speaking before preservation boards and municipal leaders, but even so she found the “media morning” at MFI extremely valuable. “They basically stick a microphone in your face and ask you about a hypothetical disaster, giving you practice at how to respond to the press in a calm way and to promote your programs at the same time,” she says. “Many of my fellow MFIers talked about how helpful they found that part of the training to be.”
One of the activities from MFI that Karen took back to the office was the personality test that participants took at the beginning of the week. “I thought that was really interesting and I asked everyone in my office to take it,” she says. “It illuminates how we interact with one another, and how we can take stock of our strengths and weaknesses and surround ourselves with people who can complement us.” Karen says that forming that well-rounded cohort makes for a good working situation and is better for the clients.
Is there anything more Karen would add? “I say to everybody that I meet that urban foresters are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, who are truly devoted to their work and to promoting urban forestry. And urban forestry is growing exponentially! I’m so happy to be a part of it.”