Mike DeMarco Pic 2Council Board Member Mike DeMarco attended the 2017 Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI) on scholarship from the Council and NYSDEC. MFI is an immersive, weeklong leadership training for urban forestry professionals. Here, we learn about DeMarco’s takeaways from MFI, his current position, and his work and educational background.

DeMarco says, “I would like to give a big shout out and thank you to the New York State Urban Forestry Council and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Without the support and positive push from members of these organizations, I would not have been able to take part in MFI 2017.”

Mike DeMarco: Prior to any thought of a career in urban forestry, I spent most of my early and mid-20’s following an obsession with creating music and working as a master control operator at WWNY- TV7, a local news station in my hometown of Watertown, NY. After a few years of work in TV, I felt that something was missing in my life—that is, until 2008 when I found Tree Watertown (Watertown’s Street Tree Advisory Board). I began attending meetings and quickly discovered my love for the urban forest.

Before I knew it, I was being mentored by two individuals that have since played a huge part in my journey. They encouraged me to pursue higher education and in the fall of 2012, I graduated from SUNY-ESF with a BS in Natural Resource Management and a minor in Urban Forestry.

MFI class of 2017

MFI 2017 graduating class – can you spot Mike DeMarco? Photo by Owen Croy

However, I couldn’t rely on my course work alone to find the knowledge and experience that I was in search of during my time at SUNY-ESF. I became a CommuniTree Steward through Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, worked as an urban forestry assistant for the City of Watertown, and became a student ambassador to the NYSUFC Board. With other Council members, I took part in lobbying for urban forestry in Albany at Forestry Awareness Day 2012. Prompted by good advice from Syracuse City Arborist Steve Harris, I jumped at an internship opportunity sponsored by the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) and spent the summer of 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana shadowing and assisting City Arborist Paul Pinco and former City Forester Andrew Mertz.

Upon graduation I accepted a position with Davey Resource Group conducting tree inventories throughout the Midwest and the East. While working with Davey I proudly became an ISA Certified Arborist. Seeking hands-on understanding of the arboricultural practices being prescribed in the inventory process, I transitioned to Bartlett Tree Experts in Springfield, Virginia. There I was able to study under some of the most talented arborists in our field. In an effort to transition back to municipal forest management, I began working with the NYC Parks Department as a forester in the Manhattan borough office. Among numerous duties and adventures as a forester, I had the privilege of co-managing Manhattan’s contracted street tree pruning efforts.     

treecity watertown

Watertown is proud of its 16 years as a Tree City USA.

Please tell us about your current position.
MD: I am a planner with the City of Watertown. Although some of my responsibilities are focused on important projects that are not specifically urban forestry related, many of my duties revolve around the City’s urban forestry program. Although we do not have full-time urban forestry field staff, we are always working to advance our urban forestry program and improve the community forest as a whole.

I’m primarily focused on administrative duties such as overseeing Watertown’s upcoming tree inventory, managing the urban forestry assistant summer internship program, working to maintain Watertown’s Tree City USA status, assisting with urban forestry grant application opportunities, organizing the City’s bi-annual volunteer tree planting projects, organizing our DPW’s young tree pruning and spring tree planting projects, and participating with the City’s street tree advisory board, Tree Watertown. I’m not always locked away in the office as I get to spend some time in the field conducting hazardous tree inspections and meeting with our in-house tree maintenance crew as needed.

MFI Pic Lake Arrowhead

MFI 2017 was held at Lake Arrowhead, California.

How did you get turned on to MFI?
MD: I found out about MFI through my student internship with SMA in 2012. Within the past year there were a few people that asked if I was planning on attending MFI and then the seed was officially planted AND watered! After reading about MFI and running it by my Director, we knew that this opportunity would be a fantastic step in helping to improve the City’s urban forestry program.

What was the most surprising thing to you about MFI?
MD: After reading some of the bios and introductions, I went to MFI feeling a bit intimidated, but within two minutes of meeting my classmates, those thoughts were washed away as I realized that we are all just trying to learn and be better humans.

fireside chat with george gonzalez

An MFI fireside chat with George Gonzalez, retired longtime Los Angeles Chief Forester. The teaching cadre for MFI brings together some of urban forestry’s brightest minds.

What was your biggest “aha” moment?
MD: I think for me, the biggest a-ha moment helped me to discover a new overlapping personal and professional goal. It can be easy at times to feel held back by resistance within the organizational structure. My “aha” moment was finding the pressure release valve in accepting that I can’t change or fix everything that is broken. However, I can commit to finding ways to help create “pockets of greatness” and to make them as meaningful as possible.

opening session john melvin

Opening session for MFI 2017 at Lake Arrowhead

What is one thing you learned that you are going to apply in practice back in your job?
MD: The idea of incorporating lateral leadership has been powerful in the way that I look at my current position. It shows me that with practice and patience I can help to facilitate positive change in the work environment through empowering others to think creatively.

What would you say to people who are thinking about attending MFI?
MD: For those of you that are on the fence about attending MFI, I say GO FOR IT! The time and resources that it costs to attend MFI are vastly outweighed by the benefits that you will gain.