November 2018 Note from the Chairs
The recent wildfires throughout California have been weighing on our hearts and minds, and we continue to send our thoughts to all the survivors, the families of victims, and the courageous firefighters and first responders.
We were thankful, against this backdrop, to see so many of you earlier this month at the Arbor Day Foundation’s Partners in Community Forestry Conference in Irvine, CA. As always, it was good to connect with old friends and colleagues, and meet new faces as we shared the latest in community forestry.
In this issue we recall highlights from our session on data sharing convened by the SUFC Research and Strategic, Engagement and Networking Working Groups, and the continuation of our workforce development conversation.
Starting a Data-Sharing Dialogue
Urban forest management generally happens at the city or county scale, but the knowledge we need to keep our community forests healthy and growing requires access to information that spans geographic boundaries. And while a wealth of urban forestry data exists, it mostly now resides in thousands of individual databases maintained by state, local, and regional government agencies; nonprofit organizations; private businesses; and universities and other research institutions. In addition, different entities gather different data, and at disparate levels of precision and quality. A perennial challenge of our community is determining how–or even whether–we can create a system to share these balkanized data sets in ways they can do the most good.
To help answer these questions, the SUFC Research and Strategic Engagement and Networking Working Groups teamed up at the Partners Conference to convene a diverse gathering of about 60 practitioners to discuss needs, challenges, opportunities, and potential next steps.
There was broad agreement among participants that better data-sharing is imperative. In addition to the obvious, numerous detriments and lost opportunities that result from siloed data, urban forest scientists, advocates, and managers spend untold resources in time and dollars each year reinventing the wheel, duplicating efforts, and simply responding to requests for information that ideally would be easily within public reach.
Participants also expressed some frustration that the many fits and starts toward data-sharing over the years have not yielded more comprehensive results, although they acknowledged that numerous challenges do exist. These include the lack of standardization in how data is gathered and stored; the necessary culling of private from public information; and the lack of any central, dedicated funding source to maintain a national data-sharing infrastructure.
The brief meeting served the purpose of jumpstarting a dialogue among the varied stakeholders in urban tree data management, many of whom are new to the SUFC. A follow-up conversation is being planned for those who volunteered to participate in future discussions, as well as both SUFC Working Groups. This follow-up will help determine what role, if any, the SUFC will serve in enhancing efforts to facilitate data sharing among urban forest managers.
Continuing the Workforce Development and Diversity Conversation
To cap off another great Partners Conference, we convened a listening session on workforce development, which also touched on diversity, inclusion, and equity (DI&E) efforts. This served to continue the conversation that we had kicked off at last year’s closing listening session, and have been working on throughout the year. Panelists Sarah Anderson (American Forests), Dana Karcher (Davey Resource Group), and Brigitte Orick (The Davey Tree Expert Company) gave their brief thoughts on the state of our workforce challenges and opportunities. Attendees then had the chance to share their experiences and questions for the panelists.
The lively discussion raised several key points. Urban forestry and tree care are not alone in our workforce challenges: the “demographic cliff” as baby boomers retire, a declining labor participation rate, and the basic truth that there are simply more jobs than people who are qualified to do them in our country right now. Companies and organizations must find ways to not only recruit, but to retain employees–tasks that go hand-in-hand with DI&E initiatives that require a firm, explicit organizational commitment to diversity.
Specifically for our community, we must continue to better define ourselves and the positions available, whether this means communicating more clearly with the young people who love working with trees and being outdoors, but aren’t considering arboriculture as a long-term career, or working to come up with consistent job descriptions and criteria across the industry. We also must continue to address DI&E issues, including language barriers, equitable facilities, and overall culture.
These topics are inherently difficult, so our intention was to provide a safe place for discussion with this listening session. Our session a year ago has led to a lot of great connections and initiatives over the last year as we look to create careers and overcome disconnects. We’re not there yet, but we’ve made great progress, and hope that this year’s session provided another step forward and chance to connect on these imperatives we’re all facing.
Please note the 2019 Annual Membership Dues invoices will be emailed the week of January 7, 2019. Payment is requested within 30 days of receipt of the invoice.
Roots and Branches
A piece by SUFC Convener Heather Doucet, “Trees Play a Key Role in a Sustainable Urban Future,” was recently featured in the Meeting of the Minds blog. Meeting of the Minds works to bring urban sustainability and technology leaders together through highlighting projects and practitioners working in eight focus areas: environment, economy, technology, governance, society, resources, infrastructure, and mobility.
Paul Ries and Gerry Gray