New York Tree Trust Development Director James Kaechele joined the Council Board last summer. The Council is lucky to have the contributions of this powerhouse who has achieved so much at 33! Here’s James in his own words.
From Scouts to Manhattan Forester
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, I spent my childhood camping and scouting, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout. My family had a trailer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on a lake; the best time of my childhood was being totally free to explore the forest.
When it was time to go to college in the early 2000s, I thought about going into plant biotech, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to work in a lab all day. I was always most interested in connecting people to the natural world. I majored in environmental and forest biology at SUNY ESF and while I was still a student, I worked at Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, Connecticut as an educator and then interim education director.
When I graduated I continued working at the arboretum as the education director. I was in charge of both child and adult education, so I was doing things like teaching busloads of first graders about the parts of a flower and putting “bee goggles” on them so they could see what a bee sees. I organized classes on all sorts of interesting topics for adults in the evenings and did some of the teaching myself. It was an exciting and fun job.
NYC Parks Director of Forestry for Brooklyn Andrew Ullman shares news of oak wilt containment efforts in that borough.
The image at left shows how oak wilt appears on the leaves of white oak (A) and on red oak (B). The leaves fall prematurely, with some green still present, from the affected trees.
To date, there has only been one confirmed case of oak wilt in NYC (Brooklyn) though there are several known outbreaks on Long Island. Oak wilt was first confirmed in Brooklyn in Green-Wood Cemetery during the fall of 2016. It should be noted, this tree was on private property and therefore not under the jurisdiction of NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks). NYC Parks has sampled about a dozen trees that are presenting possible oak wilt symptoms. We are currently awaiting the results from the lab and expect to have them within the next few weeks.
The potential impacts on NYC’s urban forest are significant. Citywide, there are nearly 90,000 street trees in the oak genus. Oaks make up roughly 13% of our street trees, and there are many more oaks growing in our parks and natural areas. Oak wilt, caused by Ceratocystis fagacearum, is a lethal vascular wilt fungi. Symptoms include wilting, defoliation, and ultimately death of the host tree. The disease is transmitted by root grafts or insects and affects host trees in a manner similar to Dutch elm disease.
After the confirmed case of oak wilt in Brooklyn, NYC Parks created a proactive inspection program to inspect trees within the boundary established around the confirmed infection site. Parks has inspected all of the oaks trees growing on the streets and in our parks within that boundary. Between NYC Parks inspectors and our friends at Trees New York, we looked at more than 3,000 oak trees as part of this program. We have also created a contract specifically for managing oak wilt. The work completed under this contract will aid us in our efforts to control the spread of oak wilt if we do find it has spread beyond the initial infection site.
Additionally, we are working closely with NYSDEC, Green-Wood Cemetery, and Cornell University’s Plant Pathology Lab to coordinate response and share information. Finally, we are also limiting non-emergency work on oak trees during the growing season to limit the likelihood of spreading the disease.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry? Navé Strauss: I grew up in suburban Long Island with a father who is an arborist. My parents are both strong advocates of being outside and enjoying nature, and my father’s profession supplemented my relationship with the outdoors, peppering it with knowledge of trees and insects by default. I never thought I would end up an arborist, and didn’t know I’d be leading an incredible tree planting program in my home city, but here I am and I’m extremely humbled by the opportunity to serve and share my experience, just as my father did and does with me.
Please tell us about your educational and career trajectories. NS: I graduated from St Lawrence University in Canton NY in 2008 with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies and an emphasis in Forestry. I started as a forester with NYC Parks soon thereafter in early 2009 and have continued my trajectory ever since, becoming a senior forester in 2014 and then director of the street tree planting program as of April 2016.
What do you enjoy so far about your current position? What are some challenges? NS: I love the challenges themselves—the juxtaposition between the natural and built environs and the cultural diversity of the City that leads to many good conversations with residents who are passionate about trees—or about not having trees. In all, I enjoy the complexity of the tasks at hand, how they fold into our mission, and navigating the ship while learning from my superiors, peers, and staff.
What are a few things people might be surprised to know about street tree planting in NYC? NS: We plant over 150 unique cultivars of trees in our public rights-of-way on an annual basis! That is an insane number, and we are extremely proud of our accomplishments in helping to diversify the City’s urban forest.
What is your ultimate vision for the NYC street tree planting program? NS: To continue the upward arch of being the best street tree planting program in the world and to assure each and every New Yorker that every tree being planted is done so with every consideration in mind, even the ones they haven’t thought of (leave that to us). Finally, to know that each tree is set up to survive and thrive after our two-year establishment period has ended.
What are your interests in your free time? NS: Cooking, reading, spending time with my loved ones, and playing guitar. I have many guitars, and I recognize that it’s a problem, but I am not ready to stop collecting.
Anything else you want to be sure to share? NS: Talking to New Yorkers about the best slice of pizza is risky business—be prepared to hunker down and listen. Is it the sauce, the dough, the cheese, or the toppings? Many differ, even those who agree on politics.
Please tell us about childhood influences that may have foreshadowed your career. Shawn Spencer: I was born in upstate New York but grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Our neighborhood had lots of trees in it and backed up to fallow farmland that was being overrun with pioneer trees. My parents were big into landscaping, so we maintained many different trees on our yard. I climbed in them, raked the leaves and needles, and helped prune them. Mom was a nurse and Dad an electrical engineer; neither sat behind a desk for work, and I knew I didn’t want to, either. I started taking all the science and biology classes I could take in junior and senior high school. I was also very active with my Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop, earning nearly all of the Natural Resource-based merit badges and doing all sorts of environmental/conservation service projects. I was good with a double bit axe and could start a fire in a Virginia rainstorm but was equally good with a shovel to plant more trees and shrubs.
Kristy King is the Director of Forest Restoration for the Natural Resources Group of NYC Parks. Here we get to know Kristy and the work that her department does to bring degraded land back to life in the surprisingly diverse range of natural areas of New York City.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in forest restoration work? Kristy King: I’ve always been interested in biology and used to explore the woods and streams behind my house in Columbia, SC. I can’t say that I was on track to work in forest restoration from a young age, but I’ve always been fascinated by the outdoors and felt that nature is an important part of the human experience. When studying biology in high school, ecology fascinated me the most due to the profound interconnectedness of life and the environment. I was so blown away by the complexity of it all and knew I wanted to dig deeper.
Can you tell us about your educational and career trajectory? King: I studied Biology (focus on botany and ecology) at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and graduated in 2003. At that point I felt unsure about my trajectory and worked for some months as a florist and a field assistant performing vegetation surveys in the cypress swamps of Francis Marion National Forest, north of Charleston.
I then scored an entry level job with NOAA/National Ocean Service as a marine biologist (basically a lab technician) studying the ecological impacts of harmful algal blooms. I did that for three years and while it was very cool, I didn’t feel personally invested in the field and didn’t want to work as a laboratory scientist for my entire career.
I started independently exploring subfields in ecology and was quite taken by urban ecology both because I personally wanted to live in a big city and because I felt excited about the potential impacts of performing science and management where so many people live!
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.]
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.
Here we learn about Brian’s background, his work in NYC, and his experience at MFI, for which he received partial support from the NYSUFC and NYSDEC.
Can you tell us about your job background and education? Brian Widener: Before I was a forester, I worked at a couple of interesting hotels, including the Giant Forest Lodge in Sequoia National Park (no longer in existence) and the hotels on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, then I worked a few years in dark, sometimes windowless corporate offices.
After volunteering in Prospect Park in Brooklyn for a year, I decided to go back to school and graduate with a Forestry degree from Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff. I always tell everyone that I learned about two trees at NAU, ponderosa pine and Gambel oak. That’s it, haha! And only a few urban tree species were planted on the streets of this 7,000-foot-elevation town (Siberian elm and honeylocust, mostly). We hiked to the higher elevations of Arizona to study Douglas-fir, bristlecone pine, Colorado spruce, etc. and I learned a lot about native grasses, scrubby oaks, and cactuses at lower elevations.
This essay comes to us from NYC Parks Forester Bill Schmidt. Bill is a Certified Arborist who coordinates urban forestry for the Greening Western Queens project.
Last Sunday, September 21, 2014, I joined over 300,000 of my fellow human beings in Manhattan for the largest climate change march in history. I was delightfully overwhelmed by the incredible turnout and the diversity of the participants.
There were young people, senior citizens, middle-aged Gen Xers like myself, faith-based organizations (I was marching next to a lovely group of elderly nuns), Native and African American groups, and organizations representing a variety of issues not directly related climate change who were marching out of solidarity.
It was a truly inspiring experience. During the march, I thought about what climate change meant to me as a forester, a father, and a global citizen. When I returned to the office Monday morning, a colleague suggested that I should encapsulate these thoughts about the march and share them with others in my field. So, here is my attempt to express how I felt in eight paragraphs or less.
In January 2008, a small group of intrepid high school students from New York City’s John Bowne High School joined a team of arborists from Bartlett Tree Experts high in the canopy of one of Central Park’s oldest trees. They sought to make sure that this tree, a European Beech planted at the direction of Frederick Law Olmstead during the construction of Central Park, would have a legacy beyond its natural lifespan. They were surrounded that winter morning by organizations united by an ambitious vision: to clone New York City’s aging historic trees and populate the five boroughs with their offspring.
The NYC Historic Great Tree Cloning Project, sponsored by the TREE Fund, Bartlett Tree Experts and the New York City Parks Dept, exemplifies how advances in tree science have changed the landscape for tree preservation. In addition to protecting the existing tree canopy, urban forestry in the 21st century allows for preservation of the genetic material of culturally and environmentally significant trees to ensure that they are not lost forever. Additional support for the project was provided by the Coleman Company, Inc., Marmot Mountain LLC and David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project International.