Getting to Know DEC’s Dan Gaidasz

Dan (far left) teaching kids in the Capital Region about tree planting on Arbor Day 2019. 

Dan Gaidasz is the NYSDEC Urban and Community Forestry Program Technical Coordinator.

Where did you grew up? Were you interested in nature from an early age?
Dan Gaidasz: I grew up in the Genesee Valley between Mount Morris and Geneseo. From a very young age, I have been interested in the outdoors. I grew up on a small farm and it was very rare to find me indoors unless I got myself in hot water with one of my siblings. Besides being surrounded by farmland and forests, I was also blessed having Letchworth State Park as my “back yard,” where I spent a lot of time exploring. In 6th grade, my school had several professionals come in and talk about their jobs; that’s when I was introduced to forestry. I couldn’t believe you could get paid being outdoors, walking the woods, and playing with heavy equipment. I knew then that I wanted to be a forester.

Dan working on emergency response/tree removal after Superstorm Sandy.

What has been your educational trajectory?
DG: Being a kid growing up in the country and swimming on my high school team, I wanted to find a school that was relatively small, rural, and had a swim team. Morrisville College fit that bill. In addition to a variety of classes, the College offered a lot of field time and hands-on experience, which I found to be very valuable. After receiving my associate’s degree there, I went to SUNY-ESF to get my bachelor’s degree in forestry.

Dan (at middle far right) setting a backfire to help control a wildfire during one of his woodland firefighter deployments out west.

What has been your career trajectory thus far?
DG: The summer after graduating, I went to work for ACRT Inc. out of Ohio. I was a contract utility arborist working on different projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast but mostly in southern West Virginia. This is where I was introduced to urban forestry, utility forestry, and arboriculture. I learned a lot about working with municipalities, the public, and tree crews while getting to travel and explore new communities.

After a couple of years I moved back to NY to be closer to family. I worked a couple of jobs as a surveyor and as the head of security for Best Buy before landing a forester job with DEC. I worked in Region 4 in the Stamford sub-office for nine years and then another nine years in the Schenectady office. The main programs I worked on were Forest Stewardship, Urban and Community Forestry, and Forest Health.

I also am a wildland firefighter and have gone out west several times to help fight wildfires. The technical training from firefighting has provided me opportunities to help on other emergency responses, such as Superstorm Sandy recovery. This training has also carried over into what I do to help communities prepare for future storms and as a member of the USFS Urban Forest Strike Team.

Dan’s kids Emma and Max with 150 new chicks.

Can you tell us some about your current position?
DG: Last May, I transferred to Albany and in late December was promoted to the Technical Coordinator position in the Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program. I have the opportunity to bring my experience as a forester and ISA Certified Arborist to help staff, volunteers, and communities. Some of the things that I’ll be working on are trainings, developing technical materials, and exploring ways we can better utilize urban wood after trees are removed. I get to work with a great group of individuals with a variety of talents and experiences. We are working hard trying to enhance an already robust UCF program while having some fun along the way. There’s a lot of laughs even when we are neck deep in grant reviews. I feel fortunate to be a part of this program.

In looking at the field of UCF overall, are there trends or patterns you see that you think are promising and/or particularly exciting?
DG: I’m interested in programs, like the Wood Academy in Baltimore, that focus on deconstruction of condemned buildings and the utilization of waste wood. We would like to see what is currently being done in New York and where there might be interest in doing something similar. Climate change is also a major concern and the UCF program will play a role there.

Dan (rear left) coaching son Max’s lacrosse team.

Anything else you want to be sure to share?
DG: I have been married for 19 years to my wife, Karen. We have two kids, Emma and Max, a dog named Charlie, lots of chickens (too many names to list—but the kids did name them all) and honey bees (the kids gave up trying to name all of them). Our kids keep us busy with their various activities but in our free time we enjoy hiking, kayaking, camping, and generally just being outdoors. I also enjoy coaching youth lacrosse, doing triathlons, and spending time on my tractor or as my wife calls it, “diesel therapy,” because apparently I am always smiling when I’m driving it around.

Dan, Karen, Emma, and Max Gaidasz on a family trip to Niagara Falls.

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