NYSDEC Urban and Community Forestry Volunteer Coordinator Christina McLaughlin travels widely. Last spring, she fed lorikeets at the San Diego Safari Park.

I grew up in Pittsford, outside of Rochester. I was definitely interested in nature from an early age, because my house was in the woods. I spent a lot of time outside catching frogs and snakes and playing in the dirt. By 4th grade, I’d decided I wanted to be a herpetologist and then a marine biologist.

I went to SUNY Oswego for a Zoology degree because of my love of nature and animals and initial plans to be a zookeeper. After working for a few years, I returned to school at the University of Albany to get a master’s in Biodiversity Conservation and Policy in order to return to biology as a career field. My thesis was on landowner knowledge and opinions of invasive species, inspired by my participation in the Capital Mohawk PRISM.

Christina with husband Mark Lanzafame at a glacial lagoon in Iceland.

During grad school, I did a Student Conservation Association internship at Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville. When it ended, I was asked to remain as a staff person, continuing to manage and grow their education programs. I started a volunteer program there and encouraged the Board to consider invasive species management.

Running the annual winter and summer festivals was the highlight of that Huyck Preserve position, along with working with a local rehabber who would bring some unique animals I was able to get up close with, like beaver kits, a fox kit—a Houdini who escaped his crate and was found in a display case—and a bobcat kitten. I also had a great experience working with the Rensselaerville Library to start a new trail run fundraiser that benefited both organizations.

Christina inside a volcano in Iceland.

From there, I joined DEC as the youth summer camp program assistant for two years before joining Lands and Forests last spring. (I’ve been “DEC-adjacent” for over a decade, as my husband is an engineer with the Division of Air Resources.) I love the camp program, particularly the staff and teenaged volunteers whose passion for conservation and desire to save the planet is so inspiring.

At DEC, I oversee and coordinate NY ReLeaf activities, including the committees, workshops, and annual conference. I’m also part of the grants program, Arbor Day activities, and lots of other things. My favorite part of the job so far has been learning about each region’s activities and meeting the very passionate people of the urban forestry field around the State.

Christina at the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress in south Peru.

I feel like every day I see another headline and article about urban forestry. It’s exciting to be in a field that is in the forefront of climate change adaptation. The focus on responding to and working to mitigate climate change using trees in New York is very exciting, and I’m really excited to be a part of it. Trees are basically superheroes!

In my free time, I’m a huge board gamer and table-top RPG (Role-Playing Game) player with a group of friends. I also love to bake, especially after I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off. I’m an avid reader and have finished 31 books so far this year, mostly sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve been learning to play guitar the past year (I’m a big fan of metal music).

The treehouse in Peru where Christina and Mark stayed.

I also love to travel—my husband Mark and I went to Iceland last year and Joshua Tree National Park this past spring; we’re headed to Acadia National Park soon, and we are planning on Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for next year.

We have a treeing walker hound dog named Elvis. I have four tattoos, two of which include trees. One depicts the tree line of DEC Camp Rushford! One last fact about me is that I hold a patent from the time I worked in a pharmaceutical lab—not a lucrative patent, but one that gives me bragging rights at parties.

Christina learned to shoot shotgun–and she hit several clays–at the recent DEC “Becoming an Outdoorswoman” workshop.