Tom Pfeiffer iiiI grew up in Albany. When I was a kid, Mom would point out different kinds of trees to me (she had grown up on a farm). My interest grew, always with sensory attraction: the smell of maples in the spring, the sound of wind in pine branches, the color of fall leaves, all the forms and shapes.

Growing up in a reasonably dense city gave me a different perspective on trees when I went to Forestry school at Paul Smiths College. After graduating and taking internship positions with the US Forest Service, I returned to Albany. A volunteer project with the City led me to the then-new position of Assistant Forester, where my re-education in urban forestry began.

Our department found every urban tree issue there is: plumbing, overhead wires, bad practices, poor soils, vandalism, sidewalks, structures. And we made many of the mistakes, but learned and adjusted. One of my first—and ongoing—efforts was to increase tree species diversity; tree planting along streets, in parks, and on school grounds gave me my highest satisfaction in the position. 

The 300th anniversary of the City of Albany in 1986 was my starting point for the many tree planting projects that followed. Working with neighborhoods, we enhanced streets with new trees; we held tree planting and educational projects each Arbor Day at schools; we coordinated work with the engineering division on construction projects that included new street trees; and we worked with the planning department, requiring trees and landscaping in new construction. I viewed planting and encouraging planting the most important part of my work.

My favorite tree sites in Albany are Washington Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Sites, and Academy Park. The design of the landscape in Washington Park was in the style of Olmsted parks, done by engineers that had worked with him. Reinterpreting that design with today’s conditions is an ongoing effort for me and a source of pride as I continue to be involved with the Washington Park Conservancy. I also just completed an Arbor Day project with Albany Goes Green in which students planted more than 30 trees.

My fondest wishes for the future of urban forestry are that we get greater codified protections (with teeth) for trees, especially during construction and other public works projects. I hope engineers and developers will really embrace the view that trees are for the long term, not nice artwork for the drawings to be dismissed after a couple of seasons for a new sign or utility. I would also like to see better pay and protection for workers in the field.