Can you tell us about childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in forestry and urban forestry?
Eric Greenfield: I grew up in Delhi, New York in the western Catskills. Delhi is small community surrounded by agriculture and forests and is home to one of the SUNY campuses.
Growing up, my interaction with nature was primarily through family camping and Boy Scouts (Troop 33). My father was a professor at SUNY Delhi, so our summers were filled with family camping trips, mostly throughout upstate New York. Unlike the typical Boy Scout troop meetings, our troop met twice a month over weekends at the troop leader’s camp in the woods. Most of my “woods” skills—like tree ID, wildlife tracking, survival skills, and ecological awareness—were developed there. In relation to urban forestry, some of my most vivid memories are of the large American elms in Delhi and the community mourning their loss when they were removed because of Dutch elm disease.
My dad was very active in our church and in community service. Participating in activities with him really helped to build my appreciation for service to neighbor, nature stewardship, and spirituality in nature. I was fortunate to be selected to participate in the American Legion Boy’s State as a teenager, and that experience helped shape my interest in the positive role of government.
I like to think that forestry (and especially urban forestry) augmented my focus on public service. The transition was natural as my appreciation of the working landscape in the Catskills grew.
Can you tell us about your educational trajectory?
EG: I did my undergraduate work at SUNY Binghamton where I majored in political science, graduating in 1990. I was thinking of a teaching or journalism career while starting to specialize in the study of state and local government. I interned with a Binghamton City Council member, and one summer worked in Albany as a research aide for the NYS Legislative Commission on Rural Resources.
I returned to my hometown of Delhi after college. I started grad school at the Rockefeller College at SUNY Albany, studying local government consolidation, federalism, and public policy. I received my MA in Public Affairs and Policy in 1996. During that time I became increasingly engaged in local government and served as a Delhi Village Trustee and then Delhi Mayor. A major local issue at that time was the proposed New York City Watershed Protection Plan and its potential impact on our local environment and economy.
I started working for the Coalition of Watershed Towns, eventually serving as the executive director. The negotiation of NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement enhanced my appreciation of the relationships between government, natural resources, and people’s daily lives.
After the NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement was completed, I decided to go back to college and get a Ph.D. in Forestry at SUNY-ESF to continue my public service career. While I was trained in traditional forestry, I wanted to learn more about urban forestry and started working at the Forest Service unit in Syracuse, specializing in urban forestry. I finished my Ph.D. in 2005.
What are some of your current responsibilities in your position of Forester for the US Forest Service?
EG: I research the ecosystems of humans and nature and dynamics of urban land-cover change and conduct spatial data analysis. I’m an adjunct assistant professor of urban forestry on the faculty of Forest and Natural Resources Management at SUNY-ESF. A big part of my current role at USFS is supporting development of iTree (www.itreetools.org) under David Nowak, and working on nationwide urban and community forestry data and trends in compliance with the Resource Planning Act and the role of our research unit, Forest Inventory and Analysis.
What would you like the wider public to know about the work that US Forest Service research stations do?
EG: Ultimately, the focus of FS research and development is to provide information and a knowledge base to protect and sustain our natural resources. More specifically, our unit helps in natural resource management: “If you want to manage it, you have to measure it.” I also always have our chief’s vision in mind: that we are here to improve the lives of citizens. Our mission is “Caring for the land and serving people.”
When you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what urban forestry is, and you only have about 60 seconds to answer, what do you say?
EG: I tell them it’s simply about sustainably managing the vegetation for the greatest benefit to the greatest number in the places we live (borrowed a bit from Gifford Pinchot). This usually leads to follow-up discussion when I get to talk about what urban really means (a density of human settlement both in small towns and in big cities; currently over 80% of the US population is in census-defined “urban”) and get to describe all the ecosystem services and benefits of urban/community forests.
What are your interests in your free time?
EG: Camping, hiking, reading (highly recommend Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape by Jill Jonnes) and serving community! I’m a Freemason in Delhi Lodge 439 and active at All Saints Parish of Syracuse.
Anything else you want to be sure to share?
EG: I married my best friend, Brenda, who serves as the Assistant Vice President of Development at SUNY-ESF. We have one daughter, Abby (13), one dog, Molly, and two former “barn cats,” Pirate and Buccaneer.