A visitor poses a question about blue spruce fungus, offering an iPhone picture of the problem. Many people share pics from their phones.
The fungus works its way up the trunk gradually, he is told, killing branches as it goes.
Asked if this is a good time for trees, Duane says, “There’s more of an awareness now. If you’re going to advise about trees, you’d better be a Certified Arborist, because the general public knows more about trees than it used to.” One challenge, he says, is that “the issue of trees has always been emotional. You can try and salvage a tree as best you can. They ask, What can I do? and if you see a photo that shows a tree which is a hazard to their home, the only answer is to mitigate it — and they don’t want to hear it.” As if to illustrate his comment, a woman approaches the booth to talk about a cherished Japanese maple in her yard, confiding, “I’m just sad to see it die.”
Duane has been a utility arborist for more than three decades and spent some time early in his career in North Carolina, hired to help with community issues, dealing especially with “escalated customer complaints.”
“Most of my hair fell out,” he says ruefully, but he adds that the experience provided an important object lesson in “getting to the personal side first and letting customers have some say in it.” He says, “Eight out of ten people when done with the utility pruning issue dragged me out back to look at the trees in their yard, so I had to learn about diseases.”
At the booth, Duane and Rebecca help visitors understand proper planting techniques, teaching people that there needs to be a visible root flare, or that there might be a girdling root problem which might not manifest until later in a tree’s life.
Rebecca agrees that now is a good time for trees. “Every time is a good time!” she says. “But now, the influx of government funds into a community can be a game changer. Federal monies are better for larger communities. New York State grants will be announced in the Fall, and people will see what the possibilities are.” She explains, “It’s the only public good that we have to beg for money for. We have to prove to people that trees are important. So these projects will raise awareness.”
Rebecca has been at SUNY Morrisville for a dozen years and is currently working toward her dissertation, focusing her research on tree equity in urban forestry. “Communities that have the least resources have the least robust urban forest,” she says. “But the hurdle of getting the resources to differing communities is monumental. How do you find the right person? It varies significantly from place to place.”
Every now and then a person working the booth finds themselves stumped. A person came in the day before, complaining about white patches on the underside of magnolia leaves. Not having dealt extensively with magnolias, Duane couldn’t assess the problem — but was able to telephone his brother in the Midwest, a board-certified Master Arborist, and he was not only able to confer on how to treat it but could recommend a regional arborist to get involved.
Rebecca is not only theoretical but practical. She says she is teaching five courses this semester, and that she customarily sends her students out with toothbrushes to get rid of scale. Have there been changes in the six years she has peopled the NYSA booth? “There are more questions about invasives,” she says. “But the basic questions are the same: planting, pruning, pest management. The level of curiosity has been consistent.”
Duane and Rebecca agree that the personal experience of being at the booth and answering questions is a rewarding one. “I absolutely love coming here,” says Duane. “I learn more every year. Part of it is developing strategy about helping trees before they fail. Some of our challenge is knowing what’s coming. You start putting plans together.”