Reflections from the SMA Conference in Charlotte

by Michelle Sutton, TAKING ROOT Editor

RELEAF 581Two posts ago, Mike Duran-Mitchell shared reflections from the 2014 Partners in Community Forestry Conference that took place Nov 5-6 in Charlotte, NC. Just prior to Partners were professional meetings and conferences like that of the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA). I edit SMA’s online magazine, City TREES, and have been lucky enough to be sent by the Society to its conferences for the past ten years.

Charlotte was a special conference for SMA, as this year it marked the organization’s 50th Anniversary. SMA was founded in 1964 by eight municipal arborists who met in Olmsted Falls, Ohio to discuss founding a professional society. They wanted to elevate the status of the profession and provide educational opportunities and camaraderie for its members.

There were 21 founding members; today, SMA has more than 1400 members from around the world. Most of the members are municipal arborists or urban foresters, but some are parks superintendents, DPW directors, landscape architects, and some are community volunteers. SMA is for everyone who cares about the urban forest!

Jeremy Barrick planting tree with kids
SMA Vice President Jeremy Barrick planted a tree with his kids to celebrate SMA’s 50th Anniversary.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary, members planted trees in its honor and posted pics of the tree plantings on the Society’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. A celebration at the conference took place, with a photo roll of images from throughout the Society’s 50-year history, and with a beautiful sheet cake that attendees ate for dessert at the Tuesday night banquet. Noteworthy in the photo roll was the presence of increasing numbers of women at SMA events over the years!

Very popular among this year’s attendees was a pre-conference workshop at Bartlett Tree Laboratory in Charlotte. There, participants learned about research on the effects of different types of growing media on tree growth; elm cultivars and pruning of them; and rootball disturbance experiments.

Touring Bartlett Lab's Research Facility--the  rhizotron that gives a window, literally, onto root growth. Photo by Doug Still
Touring Bartlett Lab’s Research Facility–the rhizotron that gives a window, literally, onto root growth. Photo by Doug Still

Also on the day before the conference was the annual gathering of Municipal Forestry Institute alums and the Fun Run, Walk, or Watch that raises money for the Urban Forest Foundation. This year’s Fun Run, enjoying glorious weather, was mostly around a major

Charlotte's modern skyline as seen from Romare Bearden Park.
Charlotte’s modern skyline as seen from Romare Bearden Park.

Charlotte stadium, with views of Charlotte’s dramatic contemporary skyline.

The talks on the conference day included a very inspiring opening presentation by Charlotte’s Engineering Services Manager David Meachum on “Creating a Municipal Partnership between Arborists and Engineers.” David has long had an interest in trees, which influenced his awareness of the city forest and helped lead to the development of this model of collaboration, which had the city foresters in the audience quite impressed or even envious.

There was also a talk about “i-Tree Landscape: Identifying Urban Forest Priority Areas” with the Davey Institute’s Environmental Modeler, Sataoshi Hirabayashi; USFS Research Director Dave Nowak, and Davey Research Forester Allison Bodine. i-Tree continues to add new tools like “Landscape” to its suite of tools that are free for all to use.

Our Council’s own PresideSMA Charlotte 170nt Andy Hillman, always a popular presenter, spoke about “Volunteer Impacts on the Urban Forestry Industry,” relating experiences from Fall River, MA and Ithaca, NY.

The Tuesday night banquet, with its awards, toasts, passing of the gavel from all the presidents present to the incoming president, is always a good time. This year I was pleased to see my friend and colleague Brett O’Brien from Missouri win a Legacy Project Award for the 3-M Wetlands Park restoration that I wrote about here on the blog.

cropped-yellowwood-with-logo-and-line.jpgThe banquet always includes the unveiling of the next year’s SMA Urban Tree of the Year; for 2015 it was voted to be yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), which is, significantly, the tree in flower that you see up top in the banner for this very blog. Yellowwood was revealed through the song stylings of “Doug and the Tree Tops” – a band of very game city foresters led by Doug Still who runs urban forestry for Providence, RI. Doug wrote the lyrics this year to the tune of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” (insert “Yellowwood” for “You”).

It’s a short conference, but a very rich one. Whether you are an urban forest professional or a longtime volunteer and advocate, I highly recommend you attend the SMA conference, and then stay for the Partners conference. In 2015, SMA and Partners is heading to Denver, Colorado, with dates TBD.

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