The Story of the Urban Forest Strike Teams

USFS-Strike-TeamThe Urban Forest Strike Teams (UFSTs) are a means for city foresters, state foresters, commercial arborists, and others to quickly come to the aid of a region whose urban forest has been impacted by a natural disaster. Here’s the backstory. 

Team Specialists discuss tree loss (and near miss!) with homeowner after Hurricane Gustav. Because it impacted a public street, the tree was marked for FEMA removal and reimbursement.
Team Specialists discuss tree loss (and near miss!) with homeowner after Hurricane Gustav. Because it impacted a public street, the tree was marked for FEMA removal and reimbursement.

by Paul Revell, Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator, Virginia Department of Forestry ♦ Photos Courtesy Urban Forest Strike Teams

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel cut a devastating path across Virginia, leaving lots of damaged trees in its wake. Several of the Tidewater cities were hit hard. Further inland, the state capitol of Richmond lost more than 10,000 public trees. Between 2002 and 2005, North Carolina and South Carolina suffered several hurricanes that also caused tremendous tree damage and loss.

Urban foresters were frustrated that there was no way to adequately respond to these disasters in order to qualify for FEMA reimbursement. Even communities with established urban forestry programs lacked the staff or a methodology to document tree damage in a timely manner, given all the other clean-up activities that were taking place. Similarly, state forestry agencies lacked a method for assisting communities from an urban forestry perspective. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused widespread tree damage in the Gulf States. One of the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina was that contractors destroyed thousands of healthy trees in the aftermath of the storm.

The Urban Forestry Coordinators of Virginia and North Carolina, Paul Revell and Leslie Moorman, decided that some sort of urban response capability needed to be developed by state agencies in advance of the next disaster. They consulted the U. S. Forest Service for assistance. Dudley Hartel, a technology transfer specialist with the Southern Research Station, was eager to help. He had assisted several communities after Hurricane Katrina and was ready to use his experience to develop a storm response methodology.

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Bassuk, Luley, and Nowak Receive Awards at ISA Orlando

Chris Luley accepting his R.W. Harris Author's Citation Award, granted to authors for sustained excellence in the publication of timely information pertaining to the field of arboriculture.
Chris Luley accepting his R.W. Harris Author’s Citation Award, granted to authors for sustained excellence in the publication of timely information pertaining to the field of arboriculture.

In early August, at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Annual International Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, Florida, three of our New York urban forest luminaries won prestigious awards.

Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director Nina Bassuk received the Alex L. Shigo Award for Excellence in Arboricultural Education. Urban Forestry LLC Principal Chris Luley received the R.W. Harris Author’s Citation. USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station Project Leader and Research Forester David Nowak received the L. C. Chadwick Award for Arboricultural Research. In the past, Nina also received the Research award and David also received the Author’s award.

What follows are the videos that ISA produced for each recipient. We can take pride in the accomplishments of these New York-based professionals who, among their many good works, have contributed immensely to the efforts and mission of the NYS Urban Forestry Council.

The New Helen Sternberg Cutler Urban Forestry Scholarship at SUNY ESF

By Lewis M. Cutler, MS Forest Botany and Ecology, SUNY ESF, 1975

There’s now an urban forestry scholarship for students at SUNY ESF. I’ve created the Helen Sternberg Cutler Memorial Scholarship in urban forestry in my mother’s memory.

Helen cropped-2
Helen Sternberg Cutler

The urban landscape needs a lot of help to make cities more livable. With the demise of the American elm, climate change, and the spread of the emerald ash borer, I saw a need to encourage more ESF students of become professionals in urban forestry. What better way to further our family interests in urban forestry than to fund a scholarship.

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Paul DiPietro: Get to Know Him!

Paul Di Pietro by Michelle SuttonPaul DiPietro is owner and president of Visual Landscapes, through which he specializes in design, preservation, enhancement, and professional plant health care for site management. Paul is a CNLP NYSNLA (Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional – New York State Nursery & Landscape Association). He lives in Elmira, New York with his wife, Lindy.

Paul DiPietro: My interest in urban forestry and landscape horticulture stems from a childhood appreciation for the environment and outdoors that my family and friends helped impart to me. During my childhood years I lived in both urban (Albany) and rural (Colonie) areas, so I had the best of both worlds. We had access to urban and state parks, museums, ponds, lakes, etc., and we made frequent visits to these areas to explore and have fun.

I could walk out my back door to a wooded area that was my playground and laboratory to play, explore, and be creative. There was a rich variety of plant species, animals, creeks, ponds, and meadows. Just a great environment to have fun as a kid! My friends and I never got bored with this adventure and freedom.

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Heidi Peterson on ReLeaf 2015

Heidi Peterson
Heidi Peterson

Did you know that scholarships toward registration for the annual ReLeaf conference are available through DEC for qualified applicants? Heidi Peterson received one this year. Heidi is Administrative Assistant,  Commercial Pesticide Applicator, and Commercial Landscaping Operations Chief for Tree Services of WNY, LLC.  She lives in North Tonawanda.

Heidi says: “When I applied for the scholarship for the 2015 NYS Urban ReLeaf Conference through the DEC, I had hoped to attend and use the opportunity to gain relevant and up-to-date information on concerns and practices; also to make new professional relationships with others interested and actively participating in the arboriculture field.

SUNY ESF was fertile ground for Tree ID during our ReLeaf Conference. Here: shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria).

The SUNY ESF campus was the perfect setting for the conference, offering an inside look at green infrastructure, biological practices towards preservation of species such as the American chestnut, and providing many species of trees for observation and comparison during the Tree ID workshop. I found it especially beneficial to hear speakers from other areas such as New York City and how they are implementing their own urban landscaping methods to increase the benefits as well as survival of trees in their communities.

Not only did the conference provide the tours, workshops, and information, it also provided a friendly, interactive setting to become familiar with others across New York State who were more than happy to share their own experiences and information and curious to hear and comment on my own as well.

Beyond all of the wonderful topics, to me, the most valuable thing I took home from the conference was inspiration to continue to expand my knowledge and practices so that I, too, may take a larger role in making our world a better place through arboriculture.”

More Faces of ReLeaf

Outgoing Council Board Member Rebecca Hargrave is Assistant Professor in the Environmental Sciences Department of SUNY Morrisville.
SUNY ESF President Emeritus Dr. Neil Murphy took the time to give ReLeafers the fascinating backstory of the LEED Platinum Certified Gateway Center.
Carterville Cattle Company Co-owner Alix Krueger serves on the planning board of the Town of Amboy.

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Oswego’s Mary Vanouse on ReLeaf 2015

Mary Vanouse
Mary Vanouse (right) with her daughter, Allison, under a monstrous beech tree in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, MA.

I have recently retired from the Community Development Office in the City of Oswego and have volunteered with the Oswego Tree Stewards since its beginnings in 2009 when the group committed itself to making Oswego a Tree City USA. Since that time the Oswego Tree Stewards have diligently tackled tree pruning, planting hundreds of trees, and providing general tree care for the community. Every year we celebrate Arbor Day and have come to enjoy a good core group of dedicated volunteers.

For the first two years we began pruning trees in the City parks and since then have methodically been addressing street trees on a weekly basis for the past four years. In 2014 the City of Oswego completed its second tree inventory (Davey Tree Experts had completed Oswego’s first tree inventory in the 1930s), so it was fun to compare the old and new snapshots of the makeup of Oswego’s urban forest.

Oswego Tree Stewards for Mary Vanouse post
Oswego Tree Stewards during a “Saturday on the Streets” gathering, with Phil MacArthur taking the opportunity to point out signs of a dying tree (there was fungus growing from the side of the trunk).

This year I thoroughly enjoyed the 23rd Annual Re Leaf Conference. One high point for me was the in-depth tour of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project that was eloquently presented by SUNY ESF Professors William Powell and Chuck Maynard and their research associates, Linda, Allison, and Tyler. Their passion for this project is contagious. I hope that many will join them in planting many thousands of “mother” chestnuts to multiply the blight resistance throughout the eastern seaboard.

I attended the Opportunities and Solutions for Green Infrastructure workshop on Friday, which was full of remarkable stories of how Onondaga County bucked the system of “gray infrastructure” after the residents protested building more wastewater plants and the newly elected Joanne Mahoney sought another solution to the runoff into Onondaga Lake. Now after many years of the “Save the Rain” campaign and a variety of partnerships with groups like Onondaga Earth Corps, Onondaga County has become a model for green infrastructure for a healthier environment. The presentation on the Gowanus Canal by Christine Petro was also a great “turnaround” story, demonstrating the benefit of citizen engagement in bringing back environmentally challenged neighborhoods.

SUNY ESF Professor Don Leopold

The top of my list was a lightning-speed Tree ID tour presented by Professor Don Leopold of SUNY ESF. As soon as he met the group outside the Gateway Center he immediately began to talk about the varieties of trees that surrounded us. White oak, bur oak, Norway maple with milky sap, native paw paw, and the list goes on. Leopold rose to the occasion, climbing a stone wall to point out an example of invasive European buckthorn.

Large rain drops punctuated the approach to the huge dawn redwood in Oakwood Cemetery growing along the border with SUNY ESF, but the 40 members of the tour continued as Leopold explained that this is one of the oldest dawn redwoods in North America, sent to ESF in the 1950s.

Leopold pointed out a number of specimen trees at the cemetery, from sugar maple to northern cedar to London plane and bur oak. He provided a good brisk walk and a huge variety of tree identifications over the course of the afternoon, ending with distinguishing between the American and European varieties of larch, noting his preference that the American variety be planted on the ESF campus.

I would recommend the ReLeaf conference to anyone interested in improving their understanding of trees and the care of our urban forests.  —Mary Vanouse

Onondaga Lake Restoration Tour at ReLeaf 2015

Wetland tourCouncil VP Brian Skinner took these photos of the Onondaga Lake Ecosystem Restoration tour during the ReLeaf 2015 conference. The bus took ReLeafers on a field trip that included an initial stop at the Onondaga Lake Visitor’s Center near the NYS Fairgrounds for an overview of Honeywell’s remediation and restoration efforts at Onondaga Lake.

About 2.2 million cubic yards of material was removed from Onondaga Lake and pumped to a consolidation area at former industrial property off of Airport Road for drying and Wetland tour signsafe isolation long term. About 2.5 billion gallons of water was treated. Approximately 450 acres of the lake will be capped to provide a new habitat layer, prevent erosion, and isolate remaining contaminants. More than 1.1 million plants, trees, and shrubs are being planted and more than 50 acres of wetlands enhanced.

From there the bus took a short drive to the Geddes Brook/Nine Mile Creek restoration area. Restoration at the approximately 17-acre Geddes Brook wetlands complex and portions of Nine Mile Creek include many interesting design features for wetland and stream restoration. About 50,000 plantings were made in the area, 11,000 of which are trees. To date, more than 100 species of fish, mammals, and birds have been observed in the restored wetland areas.

wetland tour iiThe American Society of Civil Engineers, Syracuse Section recently recognized the Geddes Brook and Nine Mile Creek project with the 2015 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.

The tour was led by Craig Milburn, Managing Partner at Brown & Sanford Consultants and Mark Arrigo, Parsons Habitat Expert.

More ReLeaf in Pictures

CCE Onondaga Forestry Program Educator and SUNY ESF landscape architecture alumna Kim Zhang enjoyed the Gateway rooftop garden at dusk.
Council Treasurer Lori Brockelbank (center) of Wendel Companies attended ReLeaf with two students from Jamestown Community College where she teaches: Tessa Vincent (left) and Cindy Raecher (right). Cindy is serving on the Council board as a student ambassador.
Council Treasurer Lori Brockelbank (center) of Wendel Companies attended ReLeaf with two students from Jamestown Community College where she teaches: Tessa Vincent (left) and Cindy Raecher (right). Cindy is serving on the Council board as a student ambassador.
Fran Lawlor did a fantastic job as conference organizer this year, working in conjunction with the dynamic Region 7 team.
Horticulturist and educator Fran Lawlor did a fantastic job as conference organizer this year, working in conjunction with the dynamic Region 7 team.

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A ReLeaf to Remember: Part I

IMG_9330Meeting the men and women who are restoring the American chestnut, exploring the Alvar plant community on the new green roof, connecting with the Onondaga Earth Corps … there were so many highlights for the 185 attendees of the 2015 ReLeaf Conference at SUNY ESF. A special shout-out to the Region 7 folks who worked hard to put on the best program and presenters:

Kristina Ferrare, Steve Harris
Fran Lawlor, Jessi Lyons
Chris Manchester, Doug Morrison
Greg Owens, Brian “the Brain” Skinner, Pat Tobin, and Kate Woodle

Mealtime conversations were the best! SUNY ESF graduate student Leanna Kirschen (left) works with Syracuse City Forester Steve Harris, and Tony Suave (right) works with the Onondaga Earth Corps.
Exploring the Gateway Center green roof with beloved ESF Professor Dr. Don Leopold.

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