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Arborist Exchange to the Wilds and Streets of NYC

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Durable tree tags support public awareness of tree planting efforts and are integral to the system used to track watering by contractors. Photos by Marty Frye 

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), with funding from the Urban Forest Foundation, sponsors municipal arborist exchanges. The purpose is to create a way for municipal arborists to exchange urban forestry expertise, management ideas, and technology through in-person contact and on-site experience. What better way to find out how other forestry practitioners operate than to spend time with each other?

In the past year, NYC’s Director of Street Tree Planting Matthew Stephens visited Casey Trees in Washington, D.C. (you can read about his experiences here) and Casey Trees Arborist for Residential Plantings Marty Frye came to NYC Parks. Here’s what Marty learned from his time in the City. [Side note: The SMA is exploring opening up the exchange to utility arborists and to nonprofit community forestry professionals.]

Marty Frye headshot
Marty Frye

Marty Frye: 

New York City Parks is exemplifying what strong, informed municipal work in the public interest should look like. I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with members of the New York City Parks Department, digging into the nuts and bolts of how this work gets done. I also had the opportunity to compare both the wild side of the “back woods” of New York with its street side counterpart. This arborist exchange was professionally exhilarating and left me craving more knowledge.

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Warwick’s Grant-Funded Arbor Day Celebration

Warwick Arbor Day poster contestants with their artwork.
Warwick Arbor Day poster contestants with their artwork.

NYSUFC Board Member Karen Emmerich serves on the Warwick Town Tree Commission. Here she shares the Town’s 2015 Arbor Day celebration and activities, supported by an Arbor Day grant of $1000 from the Council (stay tuned to Taking Root e-news for information about the next round of grants) and $500 from ACTrees. 

Contest poster winner Sarah Davis with her winning entry.
Contest poster winner Sarah Davis with her  entry.

Karen Emmerich:

In 2015, Warwick held its first-ever Arbor Day poster contest. Patti O’Connor, a 5th Grade teacher in Warwick who is also on the Town’s tree commission, coordinated the effort at the middle school. We had 15 participants, and Sarah Davis’s poster was chosen by a committee of teachers as the representative poster to forward to the State contest. We held an artists’ reception at the Town Hall at the beginning of April, and the posters were on display throughout the month. All the artists received a “Trees are Cool” button, and contest winner Sarah received a pack of tree ID playing cards.

We held an Arbor Day celebration at the Town’s new dog park, where we planted four trees: a tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), red oak (Quercus rubra) and Princeton elm (Ulmus ‘Princeton’). Members of the town board, the DPW supervisor, the town judge, and assorted citizens all attended the ceremony on what was a clear but cold, blustery day. After the DPW supervisor read the proclamation, one of our tree commissioners, Matt Doiron, spoke about the importance of trees in our lives. Matt is a forester with NYC Parks and has many years of experience in the field of urban forestry. We’re lucky to have him!

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Jeff Kehoe on the Urban Forest Strike Team Training

Consulting Forester Jeff Kehoe
Consulting Forester Jeff Kehoe

NYSUFC Board Member Jeff Kehoe is an ISA Certified Arborist and consulting forester based out of Schenectady, NY. He has a lifelong appreciation for trees, and advanced degrees in forest management and urban planning.

Jeff participated in recent Urban Forest Strike Team (UFST) training in Syracuse organized by NYS DEC Urban Forestry Program Coordinator Mary Kramarchyk. 

Jeff Kehoe:

When I first heard about the USFT training I felt it would be an exciting way to learn more about risk tree assessment and add to my urban forestry toolkit. Also, it was a great opportunity to meet accomplished tree professionals from all over the eastern United States. The Craftsman Inn, inspired and furnished by Stickley, was a cozy setting for arborists and urban foresters to share their stories. Despite the rain, we geared up and assessed trees in and around Green Lakes State Park and Fayetteville, NY.

Every tree is unique and each observer has a different perspective on how and why a tree may fail. Strike Team responders use a streamlined evaluation process which closely follows recent ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) standards. One of the training highlights for me was using the TRAQ program as the backbone for data collection and target/risk assessment. This advanced training uses complex language to objectively describe a potential natural occurrence. We focused on the defect in the tree which is most likely to fail within one year, the likelihood of the failure impacting a target, and the consequences of failure if it actually occurs.

It is surprising how specific and expensive dealing with trees can be, and disaster preparedness cannot be stressed enough. The cost and scale of damages can overwhelm regional resources and local budgets in a matter of minutes. Assessments made by Strike Team arborists can save healthy trees destined for the grinder or lead to improvement of a tree’s structure after emergency measures leave stub cuts or tears. Strike Team leaders stationed on-site will process field data to help control spending for FEMA, as well as the affected communities.

I applaud the USFT program, trainers, and attendees for their dedication to ensure safety for people and trees. Overall, it was an excellent experience, although having to use these newfound skills will be bittersweet.

Barb Neal on the Urban Forest Strike Team Training

Barb Neal (right) with UFST training team-mate, NYSDEC Forester Garrett Koplun
Barb Neal (right) with UFST training teammate, NYSDEC Forester Garrett Koplun

Urban Forest Strike Teams (UFSTs) are a means for city foresters, state foresters, commercial arborists, and others to quickly come to the aid of a region whose urban forest has been impacted by a natural disaster. UFSTs conduct assessments that help communities plan needed recovery work and document to FEMA the amount of damage and cost of clean-up. You can read all about the UFSTs on this past blog post.

Organized by our state DEC UF coordinator Mary Kramarchyk, a UFST training for professionals from the Northeast area of the US Forest Service took place in Syracuse on Sept 30-Oct 1.  

Tioga County Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture Educator Barb Neal took the training along with many other Council members. She has an extensive background as a consulting arborist.  

Barb Neal:

It sounded interesting to me and worthwhile, especially after seeing the damage from Superstorm Sandy and how much need there was for the UFST then. My executive director, Andy Fagan was on board and supportive of the UFST training to enable me and others to help out our local NY communities in the future.

It’s always good to meet other arborists and foresters in New York, and the training was a very good a blend of class presentations and going out in the field to practice both risk assessment  and using the equipment: GPS Trimble and data logger. In the field, things that seemed simple were actually a little more nuanced than you would think. For instance, we kept having to think about the documentation requirements for FEMA and how we would record appropriately to fulfill those requirements.

Sometimes we would talk for ten or fifteen minutes about one tree in light of FEMA requirements. In the real world, you don’t have time to do that, but it was really valuable to slow down and work through that during the training. We all had to separate in our minds what FEMA requires from you vs. what you as an urban forest manager might do.

Barb Neal
Barb Neal

It was very well run and also very interesting hearing some of the war stories, like from the forester from Springfield, MA, whose city got hit with three storms in one year including an ice storm and a tornado that ripped a 40-mile swath of destruction from Springfield to Sturbridge. He was a big believer in the UFST after they came and worked for his jurisdiction.

My big takeaway was that municipalities have to be prepared with storm management plans in place prior to a storm event. The more you prepare, the faster the response will be and the more likely you will get reimbursed by FEMA. Also the better your existing documentation is, the more likely FEMA will pay something toward the removals of trees that were standing hazards at the time of the storm. Or if you have good documentation about how you currently manage your street trees, FEMA will reimburse for structural pruning as long as that’s documented as a normal part of your work. I will be advising the urban foresters in my area to get organized with all these things in mind.

I would wholeheartedly recommend the training to other arborists and urban foresters. It’s one of those things where hopefully we don’t ever get deployed or only very rarely, but the more people we have that we can call in, the more responsive we can be after a federal emergency. The training was fun, too.

NYS DEC’s First Urban Forestry Program Intern: Laura Grant

Laura Grant
Laura Grant 

NYS DEC Urban Forestry Program Manager Mary Kramarchyk says, “Summer 2015 was the first time our program hosted an intern. Having several projects in mind and not having enough time to do them myself, I set our new student guest on the quest of identifying possible Tree Campus USA candidates, Tree City communities, and performance measure activities to set our goals by.”

Mary continues, “Laura Grant was a quick study and I soon realized we could expand her activities to other subjects that interested her most. Not only did Laura get a first-hand experience in learning about the urban forestry world, she left us with much needed information to help steer our program into the coming year. We are looking forward to sharing our enthusiasm with a student intern again in 2016.”

Laura is a senior at SUNY ESF, working toward her bachelor’s degree in forest health and a double minor in urban forestry and environmental writing.

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Rebecca Hargrave: Get to Know Her!

Rebecca measuring planting depth
Rebecca measuring planting depth for a scarlet oak on the Morrisville State College campus on Arbor Day, 2014. 

Rebecca Hargrave is an assistant professor at Morrisville State College in Madison County in the central part of our state. She served on the NYSUFC Board for nine years. She says that as a kid who grew up in Vestal, NY, she spent a lot of time outside, camping with her family or with Girl Scouts. “I spent many summers at Scout camp and loved it. I knew I wanted to work with nature.”

Please tell us about your educational and career trajectories.
Rebecca Hargrave: I went to Penn State for forest science. I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into when I enrolled, but I loved it. After my sophomore year, I spent the summer doing forest inventory in Montana for the Forest Service. I really enjoyed the job, but it was too quiet—not enough interaction with other people.

At that point I had been exposed to urban forestry, so when I got back to college that fall, I switched into the new urban forestry concentration at Penn State. The following summer I worked for the Borough of State College, PA on their tree crew, planting and pruning trees and conducting inventories. That cemented my decision to pursue urban forestry.

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NYS DEC Cost-Share Grants: The Trees New York Example

CPs at work
Advanced Citizen Pruners, trained and supervised by Trees New York, working their magic in East Harlem, NYC. Photos Courtesy Trees New York

The NYC-based environmental and urban forestry nonprofit organization, Trees New York, has trained Citizen Pruners since 1976. In light of so many years of success—including mentoring new Citizen Pruner groups upstate—they created the Advanced Citizen Pruner Program in 2012. You can see a video about the Trees New York Citizen Pruner program here.

Trees New York applied for and received a NYDEC U&CF Round 11 Cost-Share Grant for its Advanced Citizen Pruner training and work sessions. In-kind support came from NYC Parks in the form of NYC Parks foresters on hand for the training and Park staff and trucks to haul brush away. The training took place in summer of 2012 and the work outings began in November 2012. The focus was on structural pruning of young trees that were out of their two-year warranty, and the majority of the work took place in East Harlem, since it had dense plantings of such young trees.

We spoke with Trees New York’s Executive Director Nelson Villarrubia about their Advanced Citizen Pruner Program project implementation and things to consider when applying for a NYDEC U&CF Cost-Share Grant. Following the Q&A is the narrative of the Trees New York successful Round 11 Cost-Share Grant application. This successful narrative is instructive for municipalities who want to apply for the next round of grants (Round 13), the details of which should be announced later this fall.

Regarding Round 13, NYS DEC Urban Forestry Program Manager Mary Kramarchyk says, “The cost-share grant match for maintenance and tree planting will be only 25% this year. Also, applicants may receive partial reimbursements to make completing the project easier than funding the entire project up front. We hope this will make creating green spaces easier for non-profits and municipalities.”

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Transplanting and a Deeper Look at “Fall Hazards”

B&B trees on truck Matthew Stephens
B&B trees dug properly—i.e., when dormant. Photo by Matthew Stephens

by NYC Parks Director of Street Tree Planting Matthew Stephens and Taking Root Editor Michelle Sutton

We coauthored this story questioning commonly held beliefs about “fall hazards,” mostly as it applies to B&B trees, but we also discuss the interaction of the fall season with other production methods, like bare root. The section, “The Five Branches of Transplanting Success,” should be of interest to anyone planting trees, period!  With the help of Nina Bassuk and others, we tried to break down the complex interactions at work with transplanting. This article originally ran in Arbor Age (Fall 2015).  

The nursery industry is reluctant to dig certain species of trees in the fall, yet the “fall hazards” lists can vary significantly among nurseries. Also varying is the experience of nursery customers, including city foresters who plant hundreds or thousands of trees each year. In addition to digging season, there are other interacting factors at play in the fall planting picture.

A More Nuanced Look
Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director and street tree expert Dr. Nina Bassuk says, “Those fall hazards lists are generalizations. Typically the trees that appear on those lists are trees that are more difficult to transplant, period. In spring they don’t become easy to transplant; they’re just observed to be easier in the spring than in the fall.”

Tree Pittsburgh Director of Urban Forestry Matthew Erb has overseen the planting of more than 25,000 trees (mostly B&B) since 2008. “I’m sure if you look hard enough, you will find nearly every species on someone’s fall hazard list,” he says.

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Developing Creative Community Forestry Partnerships

Community partnerships and effective urban forestry branding and marketing: we can learn from our sister states’ approaches. Here, Vice President of Public Relations at CEL Kari Logan talks about the Kentucky Roots campaign of the Northern Kentucky Urban & Community Forestry Council and gives suggestions for “Developing Creative Community Forestry Partnerships.” If your community has forged a creative partnership that has benefited your urban forest, please tell us about it: takingrooteditor@gmail.com.   

Kentucky RootsDynamic community partnerships can be the fuel needed to propel educational forestry campaigns and programs with additional resources and vehicles for distribution. However, the best partners are not always the most obvious, but the reality is opposites can attract and can come together for the greater good of both.

Consider thinking past your typical supporters to businesses, retailers, entertainment venues, and beyond. Community forestry programs need support, and businesses need to support programs that elevate their position as environmental leaders.

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Bare Root & UHI Webinars Update

Thanks to Nina Bassuk’s research and extension efforts in bare root transplanting technology, tens of thousands of trees have been planted in New York and the greater Northeast that would otherwise not have been. In 2014 alone, 8800 bare root trees were purchased by 93 municipalities across 11 states from Schichtel’s Nursery in Western NY.

Bare root planting by volunteers in Utica. Photo by Roger B. Smith
Bare root planting by volunteers in Utica. Photo by Roger B. Smith

Schichtel’s Sales Manager Jim Kisker, who has partnered with Nina on bare root and other research since 1990, says the vast majority of the nursery’s bare root sales go to municipalities that are using her bare root technique. Kisker says, “When I listen to some of our municipal customers give presentations on the success they’re having with bare root, they’re up in the exceptional 93-96 % survival rate with the dip and bag method. We know it works, because the same municipalities come back every year. Some have been buying from us, with this method, for 10-15 years and in some cases, 20-plus years.”

NYS DEC Urban Forestry Program Manager Mary Kramarchyk says, “When learning about volunteer efforts across the state, I find it uplifting that so many local tree stewards already know about bare-root tree planting and that they find it much easier to do than balled and burlap trees.”

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