29 Sep 2015 | President's Perspective: Arborists Need People

Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Western Arborist

Greetings from the top of the Matterhorn!  No, I didn't actually write this message from the top of the Matterhorn at Disneyland Resort, but it is a great vantage point to view the 'Happiest Place on Earth' and its unique urban forest.

For me, it’s an exciting time to be an arborist at the Disneyland Resort. My fellow Cast Members and I provide the care and maintenance that sustains this magical landscape. Like with any urban forest, our team also is focused on preparing for the challenges ahead. Climate change, drought effects, population growth, introduced pests, etc., have taken a toll on all urban forests and are threatening the existence of forests worldwide. Arborists and urban foresters are needed, perhaps more than ever before, to provide the specialized care and expertise required to sustain trees in developed areas.

Despite my last name, I didn’t always know my purpose in life was to care for trees. I grew up climbing trees in Washington State, worked at a local nursery watering trees, and made my way to Humboldt State University to study amongst the majestic coastal redwoods. At the time, I was more interested in running cross-country amongst the redwoods than the trees themselves.

I took a Botany class from Dr. Stephen Sillett, the noted tree canopy scientist and professor. I actually failed miserably and said “I’m going to Disneyland!” Typically, you say that when you win at something, but I took the opposite approach. Looking back on this, I am always thankful that my early failure led to my success in a career of trees at the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’!

At the Disneyland Resort I learned the art and science of pruning topiaries, which led to my love of pruning trees. I became a Certified Arborist and Certified Tree Worker. This was my introduction to the arboriculture community. If it were not for my association with WCISA and involvement at Disneyland, I would not be where I am today.

My first real climb was during an arboriculture class at Mt. San Antonio College. Bob Bennett, a WCISA member and experienced climber, showed me the ropes. Bob, incidentally, was recognized for his volunteer service to the Chapter at the 2015 Annual Conference. After making it to the top of a large sycamore, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

As I got into the swing of things, I sought every training opportunity and every bit of information I could get by attending WCISA seminars and conferences, networking with other arborists, and volunteering to judge for the Certified Tree Worker exam. I was also fortunate to work with my mentor, Michael Mahoney, deep in the Jungle Cruise, learning the nuts and bolts of trees.

Some of you may have similar stories about how you found the path to a career in arboriculture. Some by taking the road less traveled ? others may have taken the main highway. Either way, there were people along the way that helped mold you into the professional arborist you are today. Whether it was a fellow arborist in the workplace, a professor at a local college, or various speakers at Western Chapter ISA regional meetings, your knowledge stems from the people you encountered along the way. Few people make it solely on their own. My point is that we need others for support and guidance. The fact is arborists need people!

I realized early on the importance of WCISA and ISA, its parent organization, and other professional organizations within the green industry. They provide a chance to connect with others and develop professionally.

Last year our chapter gained about as many members as it lost, yet the number of Certified Arborists and other certifications have grown, and attendance at education seminars, workshops, and conferences has increased significantly. I wonder why that is? I suspect that some people have simply retired, or that we are seeing new people entering the profession. We know that there are many arborists out there that are not taking advantage of membership in our organization, or simply not aware of the benefits that membership offers. I’m concerned that they are not getting the training, information and access to the resources needed to advance in this profession and become competent arborists who can provide appropriate tree care.

With that said, one of my goals as President this year is to increase chapter outreach to attract the next generation of arborists and tree care professionals. If we are not successful, our profession will surely suffer! Our organization and its members must take a more active role in attracting students and promoting arboriculture as a career choice to people currently working in the industry as well as to a wider audience.

The following volunteer-based committees: Student, Membership, Marketing, Women in Arboriculture, Spanish, and Annual Conference, are working on this goal. But each member, sharing his or her passion and knowledge with someone else starting out in the industry, or encouraging  young people to consider arboriculture a worthwhile career choice, can do more to accomplish this goal.

Other pursuits we are working on, in a concerted effort among the board members, the chapter committees, and Epicenter Management, involve the development and implementation of the Chapter’s strategic plan. This plan is intended to guide the chapter and better support the membership in the future. It is also a passion of mine to continue incorporating technology and collaboration with other green industry professionals to increase the value to our membership and industry as a whole.

On top of that, we are planning a great annual conference May 2-5th 2016 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. The conference theme is “Magic in Our Urban Forest: Forward Thinking Strategies for Us and Our Trees.” The idea is that there is magic within our urban forests - the magic you create and the magic that trees give us. Leading this effort is Nicholas Crawford (conference chair) and Adam Schwerner (program chair).

With all of that said, I am excited to have a chance to lead the Western Chapter this year on your behalf. When I first met Rose Epperson, I was inspired to get involved with the Chapter to give back what folks like her have given me. I also want to thank all of the many volunteers that share their passion and that give so much of their time, energy, and expertise, year after-year, to our organization. I look forward to the exciting year ahead and welcome you to join us and volunteer within the Chapter. 

- Rhonda Wood, WCISA President


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