In the previous edition of Hort Notes (orginially in Citizen Forester), we commenced reporting on our findings from our in-person interviews that were conducted with tree wardens in Massachusetts from 2013-2016 (Harper et al., 2017). Stakeholder feedback can be critical when it comes to reliably informing University-based Extension programming content, and in this issue we will outline what interview participants indicated about their continuing educational needs.
What We Learned…
i. Educational/training needs.
Nearly half of the participants (n=24) indicated thematically identifiable subject matter including the desire for more information concerning urban forest ‘pests’ (n=12), urban forest ‘inventories’ (n=4), and urban ‘tree planting’ (n=4). These themes were generally not surprising as the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab “regularly” receives questions about urban forest pest management (Dr. N. Brazee, UMass Diagnostic Lab Director, pers. comm.) from urban forest practitioners. The DCR urban and community forestry programme “frequently” receives questions concerning the various perspectives related to urban tree planting, and also “very often” receives inquiries concerning the conducting of an urban forest inventory (M. Freilicher, DCR Urban & Community Forestry Program, pers. comm.). Tree wardens also broadly identified the need for more information concerning ‘safety’ (n=13) with two affiliated sub-themes arising, including ‘electrical hazard awareness training’ (i.e., EHAP)’ (n=3) and ‘hazard or risk trees’ (n=3). The somewhat lesser frequency regarding the occurrence of these two themes was intriguing. Electrical-related fatalities have been historically responsible for a substantial percentage (around 25% - 30%) of overall fatalities in the tree care industry, though rates have been dropping in recent years (Gerstenberger, 2015). Furthermore, the topic of hazard, or risk trees, has received much attention as the issue of public safety and liability has escalated, and since the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) released its Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) in 2011. Additionally, Ricard and Bloniarz (2006) concluded that tree wardens spend “most” of their time on activities like risk tree assessment and removal. The importance of this topic was also determined by Rines et al. (2010), who found that almost “all” tree wardens indicated that “removal of dead and hazard trees” was a “moderate or high” priority issue in their respective community. Our urban forests continue to age and decline, and nationwide the U.S. is losing over 36 000 000 urban trees per year (Nowak & Greenfield, 2018), hence the issue of hazard – or risk – trees is likely to continue to be of increasing relevance to tree wardens. It is curious as to why this issue was not identified with more emphasis, and this would indeed be a topic worthy of further research.
ii. The dissemination of educational information.
Nearly all of the interviewees’ responses concerning educational information delivery could be thematically categorized (n=46). Over half of tree wardens responded that ‘electronic’ media (n=27) was an acceptable information delivery technique with a substantial number (n=19) indicating that a ‘web-based’ format would be adequate. Over half of the tree wardens (n=31) indicated that ‘in-person’ delivery was also an acceptable mechanism for information exchange, specifically if the interaction was ‘local’ (n=8) and comprised of a ‘meeting’ (n=6) or ‘program’ (n=8). Tree wardens in the eastern part of the state emphasized the need for a mix between ‘electronic’ based materials and ‘in-person’ information exchange (n=21 and n=17, respectively), but tree wardens in the central-western part of the state indicated more of an emphasis on ‘in-person’ information exchange (n= 14), compared to ‘electronic’ based educational materials (n=6). This may relate to previous statements and findings from other studies, concerning community size and resource availability. Since central-western MA is composed of smaller, more rural communities and full-time tree wardens tend to be located in larger, more populated communities (Rines et al., 2010), those in the central-western portion of the state are more likely to operate on smaller budgets, potentially respond more reactively to tree-related issues, and be less likely to have access to the infrastructure and resources that facilitate proactive urban forest management, including the internet (A. Snow, tree warden – Town of Amherst, pers. comm.). As the tree warden from the central-western MA Town of Petersham indicated concerning the transfer of educational information, “person-to-person interaction is key…web-based methods should be used to complement any information gaps along the way.” This corroborates Ricard and Bloniarz (2006), who determined that tree wardens find interactions with other tree wardens and in-person attendance at more formal educational seminars to be highly valuable.
iii. The time of the year that programs & training should take place.
Tree wardens indicated that ‘spring’ was the least popular time of the year to engage in educational or training activities (n=2) followed by ‘fall’ (n=8). On the other hand, ‘winter’ (n=15) and ‘summer’ (n=14), were identified as more appropriate times of the year to engage in professional development. This may be due to a number of factors, including the time commitment required by tree wardens that are involved with tasks associated with the commencement and close of the growing season, like spring and/or fall tree planting (D. Lefcourt, tree warden – City of Cambridge, pers. comm.)
Since the position of tree warden is not a traditionally-recognized, formal profession, priorities associated with the position may vary considerably from municipality to municipality based on a community’s individual urban forest priorities (Ricard & Bloniarz, 2006). Overall, tree wardens expressed that they interact with a wide number of community organizations (see Figs. 2 & 3), and municipal departments on a routine basis. Of further interest in this vein, is the relationship between the local tree warden and the local utility (Doherty et al., 2000). Since it is estimated that street trees that are in the vicinity of utility lines are estimated to comprise 50% of the public urban forest (Moll, 1988), this is a notable relationship. The interaction between tree wardens and the utility provider was identifiable (n=8) throughout responses in the interview questionnaire. According to the tree warden from the City of Medford, MA “…our relationship with the utility company is an important and mutually beneficial one”. Additionally, according to the tree warden in the Town of Lenox, MA “I have enjoyed a close relationship with the utility forester for many years.” Thus, it is apparent that a successful tree warden should have the capacity to effectively communicate with a wide number of individuals and organizations in their respective communities (Rines et al., 2010; Rines et al., 2011), including their utility partners (Doherty et al., 2000). And a successful tree warden should also have the capacity to embrace the dynamic state of their position, being able to balance a number of priorities that are subject to change, based on needs and occurrences in their local jurisdiction.
Though there is variation within MA communities, tree wardens are generally housed in a municipal department, like public works or the highway department, often in a senior management capacity. As the size of the community increases, the local tree warden typically has access to a larger pool of available resources; to successfully employ these resources to manage public shade trees, they often need to be able to interact with a wide range of local municipal departments, commissions and citizen volunteer groups. Tree wardens expressed the desire to receive continuing education, either in-person or web-based, preferably in the summer or winter months. Training content may vary widely but should include information pertaining to urban forest pest management, community tree inventories and urban tree planting. Nearly all tree wardens interviewed indicated that they routinely monitor for urban forest pests. Many of these urban forest priorities are worthy of further research, and the dynamic nature of the position of tree warden necessitates routine visitation, to assess training needs and priorities of these individuals who strive to preserve and protect both public trees and public safety throughout the Commonwealth of MA.
This initiative was funded in part by the USDA Forest Service through the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Urban & Community Forestry Program. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. We thank both the UMass Dept. of Environmental Conservation and the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food & Environment for supporting this research.
Doherty, K.D., Ryan, H.D.P., & Bloniarz, D.V. (2000). Tree wardens and utility arborists: a management team working for street trees in MA. Journal of Arboriculture 26(1): 38–47.
Gerstenberger, P. (2015). Occupational accidents. Tree Care Industry Association. (p. 4).
Harper, R.W., Bloniarz, D.V., DeStefano, S., Nicolson, C.R., 2017. Urban forest management in New England: Towards a contemporary understanding of tree wardens in MA communities. Arboricultural Journal 39(3): 1-17.
Moll, G. 1988. Branches & wires: The conflict above. American Forests 94: 61-64.
Nowak, D.J., & Greenfield, E.J. (2018). Declining urban and community tree cover in the United States. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 32: 32-55.
Ricard, R. M., & Bloniarz, D. V. (2006). Learning preferences, job satisfaction, community interactions, and urban forestry practices of New England (USA) tree wardens. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 5, 1–15.
Rines, D.R., Kane, B., Kittredge, D.B., Ryan, H.D.P., & Butler, B. (2011). Measuring urban forestry performance and demographic associations in MA, USA. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 10(2): 113-118.
Rines, D.R., Kane, B., Ryan, H.D.P., & Kittredge, D.B. (2010). Urban forestry priorities of MA (U.S.A.) tree wardens. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 9(4): 295–301.
Rick Harper, Stephen DeStefano, and Craig Nicolson, Dept. of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Michael Davidsohn, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, University of Massachuetts Amherst; Emily S. Huff, Assistant Professor of Forestry, Michigan State University