Were there childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry?
Ross Hassinger: I knew at an early age that I had a passion for working outdoors. As a teenager, I would often mow lawns and do light landscape work for neighbors and relatives to earn extra money. My grandmother would comment on my attention to detail and how I seemed to really enjoy working with nature. She seemed to think it would be my calling. That stuck with me as I went through school and tried to find a meaningful career path.
What have been your educational and career trajectories? RH: After high school, I attended Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin and obtained an associate degree in parks and recreation. After I realized what my ultimate career goals were, I enrolled in the forestry recreation program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Early on in my coursework, I met other students majoring in urban forestry and would often help them with campus tree pruning. Along with my forestry courses, this is where I found my passion for urban forestry. I soon changed my major to urban forestry and became an active member in the Student Society of Arboriculture (SSA). Through the SSA, I attended industry conferences and had opportunities to network with industry professionals. This networking gave me a sense of what the industry had to offer and helped guide me towards working with urban trees for the rest of my career.
I’ve moved around a bit in my career geographically as I’ve always wanted to explore new places and meet new people. I did a college internship in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as a tree worker. After college, I spent five exciting years working in southern California as an arborist for a commercial tree care firm. Eventually, I missed the change of seasons and wanted to be closer to family and found an amazing opportunity with a well-respected tree preservation firm in the Chicago area.
The six years I spent in Chicago working in tree care sales and consulting taught me a great deal. But more importantly, Chicago is where I met my wife Mandy. She hails from Buffalo, New York and a new career opportunity for her and a desire to be closer to her family brought us to Buffalo over three years ago. The move gave me the opportunity to transition from private tree care to the public sector.
Can you tell us about your current position? What are the challenges? What are your favorite parts of the job?
RH: I currently serve as the Buffalo City Forester. I started in this position just six months ago, and it has been fulfilling and exciting as a complete application of my urban forestry education and interests. In this role, I coordinate all the activities of Buffalo’s Division of Forestry. A typical day involves setting up work orders, performing tree inspections, and reviewing development plans that affect trees in the right-of-way.
One of the challenges I face on a routine basis is dealing with upset residents who feel street trees are more of a nuisance than an asset to the community. I guess I could let it discourage me, but I find inspiration in knowing that most people simply don’t understand the benefits that urban trees provide, and I need to do my part to spread the word.
So far, my favorite part of the job is acting as a consultant to the City Planning and Engineering Departments on matters related to the Forestry Division. Recently, there has been a good deal of new development in Buffalo, and to be able to weigh in on new green infrastructure planning has been very rewarding.
When you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what urban forestry is, what do you say?
RH: I’ve always found this to be challenging. A lot of people do not think of a city or town as having an “urban forest” outside of parks or traditional green spaces, so I explain how all the trees in a city make up the urban forest. I share how communities have to manage their tree population with whatever budget is available to them, and how this involves the selection of appropriate trees to provide the most benefit to the community while also managing their care and maintenance.
What are your interests in your free time?
RH: I enjoy running and getting a few rounds of golf in when I can. Also, my wife and I purchased a home built in 1925, which is beautiful and has a lot of character, but there always seem to be new maintenance projects to tackle. I really enjoy trying to preserve the house in its original glory and do whatever work I can without getting too far out of my comfort zone.
Anything else you want to be sure to share?
RH: My wife, Mandy, and I recently became parents to twin daughters. They’re a little over one year old now and it has been a very busy and exciting year with the girls and the new job.