City Trees

January/ February 2014

City Trees is a premier publication focused on urban + community forestry. In each issue, you’ll learn how to best manage the trees in your community and more!

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Page 31 of 39

Partners Updates State Coordinators Is Education Enough? Story and photos by Chris Donnelly, Urban Forestry Coordinator, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Forestry This is an essay I wrote with the Connecticut Tree Wardens Association in mind, but I feel it applies equally well to the Society of Municipal Arborists. —C.D. In Connecticut we had a good bill pass the legislature during last year's session. For the first time, the state now requires that tree wardens be qualified for the job. Tree wardens have been around in Connecticut for a while. Since 1901, state law has allowed each town to appoint a tree warden and, since 1929, required each town to do so. A tree warden is a municipal official, much like what is called a city forester or chief municipal arborist in other circumstances. Among his or her duties, a tree warden in Connecticut has "care and control" of the public's trees. "Care and control" is a major responsibility. Previously, state law was silent as to the background needed in order to be in a position to meet this responsibility. The two storms of late 2011, with their estimated $3 billion in economic damage, changed all that. Caring for the public trees suddenly became more than just a good idea; establishing qualifications for tree wardens became a priority. Support for the new bill was, and is, strong. In this bill, now known as Public Act 13-203, the emphasis is on education. In a nutshell, the new bill requires that anyone appointed as tree warden must either take coursework approved by the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection or be a state licensed arborist. In the bill, the legislature specifically cited the coursework that is given by the Tree Wardens Association of Connecticut, through their Tree Warden School. Simply put, the legislature codified and strengthened a tradition of education already underway within the ranks of tree wardens. It was this focus on education and qualifications that led to the Tree Wardens Association being formed in 1992, and it is this same focus that keeps the Association going today. So, education is one cornerstone of this effort. But, is education enough? As a state urban forestry coordinator, it is part of my job to ask questions such as, "What makes for an effective tree warden?" and "What can the state program do to help the tree wardens succeed in their critical role as leaders in urban forestry at the local level?" Before getting to whether education is enough and those other questions, I want to be sure to mention that it is 32 my good fortune to have been out in the field many times with tree wardens, and I am always impressed. I am also humbled when I think of the responsibility that they have taken upon themselves. It is never an easy job. The stakes, in terms of public safety and public benefits, are very high, as is their visibility, particularly when the decisions are difficult or there is a vocal group involved. When I am around tree wardens, I mostly seek to learn from them, and I am always rewarded in this effort. So, it is not my intention to preach to the tree wardens. Rather, I hope to sharpen the picture regarding this very diverse group, in a way that helps me express to others why what tree wardens do is so important. In addition to education there are three other characteristics that I associate with effective tree wardens. These are experience, insight, and the ability to act. There are other characteristics, of course, that are helpful, such as the ability to communicate well or to be engaging personally. But I consider education, experience, insight, and the ability to act as the four corners upon which the rest of the structure is built. They let the rest happen. Let's talk about each in turn. Education is important for several reasons. It sets a minimum base of knowledge upon which the tree warden can draw. Just as importantly, it sets the stage for information-sharing among tree wardens. By promoting a common language and common understandings, tree wardens, through education, are much better able to share ideas and communicate questions. Education also forms the basis for the acceptance of recognized standards, such as the ANSI A-300 series or the ANSI Z-133 for safety. Knowing and accepting these standards helps put everyone on the same page. However, the deepest common bond among tree wardens is the experiences they share. Often, this is how they to relate to one another. Whether it is a particularly difficult tree removal or a contentious public hearing, other tree wardens know what it is like to have been there. A tree warden's experience is also very influential, even to those who are not tree wardens. Not to knock education, but an increasingly educated public has access to all sorts of information. It is because the tree warden has "not only read the book, but has been to the show" that the public affords him or her that greater measure of trust. Having experience is often the difference in convincing a skeptical audience. City Trees

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