NYC Parks Tree Preservation Senior Project Manager Danielle Gift reflects here on her experiences attending the Partners in Community Forestry (“Partners”) Conference, which includes the affiliated Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) Conference. The next Partners will take place November 20-21, 2019 in Cleveland, just after the SMA Conference November 18-19. Partners is organized by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Danielle Gift. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Danielle Gift:

I’ve been to three Partners conferences in varying forms: Pittsburgh was just the SMA portion because I had hosted an SMA intern; Charlotte was just Partners because I got a scholarship from the Council; and Irvine was SMA and Partners because I got a scholarship from the Council for Partners and attending SMA was important to me so I tacked that on to my trip.

I have had different reasons and intentions for going each time, affecting which presentations I go to and what I got out of the conference. Regardless of reason or intention, every time I come back from these conferences, I have a renewed sense of purpose and belonging in the industry, and Partners (including SMA) is always so, so special! I like to think that ISA feeds my brain and Partners feeds my heart and soul.

Danielle Gift with intern Steve Walton at the SMA 2013 Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Michelle Sutton

The first time I attended Partners was in 2013; I was going to the SMA conference in Pittsburgh because I had mentored a summer intern through SMA’s wonderful intern program. I was invited to see my intern’s presentation on his project and then received a nice appreciation plaque (which is still featured prominently on my desk).

At that SMA Conference, I just remember a feeling of wonder that there were so many other professionals out there all trying to do the same thing—do the best they could to manage the forest they had. I specifically remember a talk about people’s health in areas especially hard hit by Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). This was also when I was introduced to the Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI). My boss at the time, Jeremy Barrick, snuck me into the MFI Reunion (shh, don’t tell) and there I met SMA Director Jerri LaHaie and some of the other MFI Teaching Cadre.

The 2014 Class of MFI; can you spot Danielle? Photo by Paul Ries 

The following year, I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from our Council to attend the Partners side of the conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. This was a lot of fun because I had just gone through MFI that spring and there were so many people there from my class. I also got to meet up with members of the Urban Ecology Collaborative, a group I normally only get to be with over the phone since we span several cities.

It was also a special conference because it was SMA’s 50th anniversary and I was involved in some of the planning for the celebration. A highlight for me at that conference was visiting the nursery Charlotte uses to source their street trees; I love tree nurseries! I also distinctly remember learning about Denver’s EAB infestation, and I’m pretty sure this was the first time I met Arbor Day Foundation Director Dan Lambe!

Photo Michelle Sutton

My most recent visit to Partners was this past year (2018; Irvine, CA), and I got to do it all. I was involved in the SMA Membership Committee, so it was really important to me to attend the SMA conference. Again, I was able to attend the Partners side because of the generosity of our Council. This conference was like a family reunion … only nerdier! It had been four years since my last conference and I had met and geeked out with so many people in those years—and they were all in Irvine.

The Irvine set of conferences (SMA + Partners) was also different for me because I had a focus for attending beyond representing the Council. In the years since Charlotte, my role at NYC Parks has evolved, and I now work within the Tree Preservation unit, so I was bringing that lens. Also, I brought the pained awareness that EAB had landed in NYC!

Irvine Conference highlights for me included Dan Lambe’s welcome, wherein he cleverly reworked the Periodic Table of Elements for urban and community forestry. I also loved the visit to the Irvine Company’s property to look for goldspotted oak borer; we were transported in the back of pick-up trucks that were fitted with seats—it was like being on a tree safari! I was interested to learn about “green gentrification,” a term I had never heard before visiting California. I also sat in on the Onondaga Earth Corps presentation and was so incredibly moved and proud of their speakers that I was actually crying in the audience because I was so proud of them! (And I wasn’t alone…)

Taveon Stenson and other Onondaga Earth Corps advanced crew members presented at the 2018 Partners Conference. Photo Greg Michel

Overall, I have been incredibly fortunate to attend the Partners conference in many ways, shapes, and forms. Every time I go back, I feel like I’m giving more energy to my flywheel and adding more to my urban forestry arsenal. It has been a pleasure to represent NYC Parks, SMA, the NYSUFC, and New York State as a whole.

I am always so proud of what we are able to accomplish in New York and so impressed with what other municipalities and states can do. What an amazing way to meet a whole bunch of people with the same goals and learn a whole bunch from them in the process.