On The Road Again (For The Trees)

At 5:30am yesterday, under what could charitably be described as “wintry mix,” I hopped in our car, cranked up some tunes, and headed down to Indianapolis for the first of my many 2018 speaking engagements on behalf of TREE Fund. In the weeks ahead, I will be in New York, Hawai’i, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee and New Mexico . . . and that just gets me to early April. Zoom zoom!

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, my position description says (among other things) that I am to “represent the Fund to its donors, volunteers, partners, researchers, the public and all other stakeholders.” I take that task seriously, and recognize that my ability to do it from my office in Naperville, Illinois is limited, at best; we do good online and virtual communications work, sure, but the face-to-face pitch is core to convincing people to support what we do. Equally important: reporting back to those who have supported us on how their generosity made a difference, and what we were able to do with it.

I don’t know exactly how many people I will stand in front of (in person, or on camera) over the year ahead — but it’s a pretty big number. I’m a reasonably deft public speaker and can expand or contract my core talk to run anywhere from three minutes to an hour, as requested by my hosts, or as a “read of the room” indicates will work best for the people in attendance. (There’s a huge difference in audience response over the course of a typical conference day; I’d say the 10:30 AM slot right after a mid-morning break is the best gig, most of the time, when people are caffeinated, stretched and alert, but not quite restless for lunch yet).

That said, I do have a baseline presentation, and we actually share a generic version of it with our 21 Chapter Liaisons and other key supporters around the country  in case they need to do their own presentations, or want to have some highlights to insert into their own publications, websites, conferences and/or seminars. The Indiana Arborist Association were the first to hear our new 2018 report . . . and I provide a link below to the generic slide deck I used, if you’re curious about what it is we actually do over the course of the year at TREE Fund, beside ride our bikes 500+ miles for research, and solicit proposals for grants:

TREE Fund Report of Activities, 2017-2018

As always, it’s good work for a good cause — and one of the final slides in the deck tells you what you can do to help us out. Feel free to follow our activities by signing up for our monthly newsletter (hit the subscribe button here), share our information, or even invite me to come speak to your own green industry friends and colleagues.

My Road Warrior’s Motto: Have iPod (filled with horrible grindcore, death metal and industrial music that I can’t play at home), Will Travel. And I do it for the trees.

TREE Fund’s Spring 2018 Grant Season is Underway

Earlier this week, I posted about the 2018 fundraising season getting underway at TREE Fund when registration went live for the Tour des Trees. On the very same day, we also went live with an even more important facet of our business: grant-making season. It’s satisfying to see the means to the end (fundraising) and the end itself (grant-making) line up that way, and I’m very grateful to the staff here in Naperville for a lot of hard work required to get both pieces of our enterprise launched at the same time. Thank you, Karen, Monika and Barb!!!

We have three research programs, one community education program, and five scholarship programs accepting proposals and applications between now and March 15, 2018. Specifically, we are offering awards in the following areas during the current grant season; there may be multiple recipients for several of them:

RESEARCH:

  • Hyland R. Johns Grant Program: Established in 1995 to honor one of the leaders in the arboriculture industry and a founder of the ISA Research Trust, the Hyland R. Johns Grant Program funds longer-term research and technology transfer projects that have the potential of benefiting the everyday work of arborists. Projects are expected to be completed within three to five years, with a maximum award value of $50,000.
  • Utility Arborist Research Fund (UARF) Grants: In 2017, TREE Fund and the Utility Arborist Association completed a $1.0 million campaign for the UARF, and first grants will be awarded in 2018. Given the immense scope of annual utility arboriculture work on a global basis, if UARF-funded research can generate even a 1.0% reduction in tree-related outages, customer complaints, vegetation management complexity or emergency tree work, the financial, community relations, and worker safety returns on investment will be immense. Projects are expected to be completed within one to years, with a maximum award value of $50,000.
  • Safe Arborist Techniques Fund (SATF) Grants: SATF is a joint program of TREE Fund and the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), established in 2015 to support research, development and technology transfer on the techniques and equipment that arborists use in climbing, rigging, and working on trees, as well as the means of identifying potential hazards. Safety is a major concern to practicing arborists, especially as incomplete knowledge of potential hazards can be a life-or-death issue for both tree workers and the public they serve. Projects are expected to be completed within two years, with a maximum award value of $10,000.

SCHOLARSHIPS:

  • Robert Felix Memorial Scholarships ($5,000): National program for current college students pursuing a career in commercial arboriculture, entering the second year of a two-year program or entering the third or fourth year of a four-year program at an accredited undergraduate institution.
  • Bonnie Appleton Memorial Scholarships ($5,000): National program for current college students pursuing a career in urban forestry, arboriculture, horticulture, or nursery management, enrolled as a junior or senior throughout the scholarship award year at an accredited undergraduate institution in the United States or entering the second year of a two-year program.
  • Horace M. Thayer Scholarships ($3,000): Program for residents of Pennsylvania or Delaware (may be attending school elsewhere) who are returning to the second year of a two- or four-year program at an accredited college or university and be currently enrolled in a major, minor, option, or program of arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, or urban forestry.
  • Fran Ward Women in Arboriculture Scholarships ($3,000): Program for residents of Pennsylvania or Delaware (may be attending school elsewhere) who are female, returning to the second year of a two- or four-year program at an accredited college or university and be currently enrolled in a major, minor, option, or program of arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, or urban forestry.
  • John Wright Memorial Scholarship ($2,000): National program for high school or college students pursuing a career in the commercial arboriculture industry, entering or returning student at an accredited undergraduate institution in the United States.

COMMUNITY EDUCATION:

  • Ohio Chapter ISA Education Grant Program: Established in 2012, the Ohio Chapter International Society of Arboriculture (OCISA) Education Grant Program funds arboricultural education programs or projects within the state of Ohio. The purpose of this grant is to increase the public awareness of and support the advancement of knowledge in the field of arboriculture and urban forestry to benefit people, trees and the environment. Projects are expected to be completed within one years, with a maximum award value of $5,000.

We run all of our grant and scholarship programs on an open, competitive basis, and as a general rule, applicants from the United States or countries represented by an ISA Chapter are eligible for consideration, outside of the restrictions noted above. There is a strong positive correlation between the number and quality of the applications we receive, and the number and quality of the grants we award — so we are always interested in getting the word about our programs out as widely as we can.

Do you know anybody who might be an eligible candidate for any of these programs? If so, the links below take you to standalone, printable requests for proposals/applications (RFPs) for each of the programs. Please feel free to send them on, print them, post them on your organization’s bulletin boards, or share them (or this web page) any other way that might help get them into the hands of a worthy grant recipient. Tree research matters, and this is the crucial first step for getting it done this year!

I snapped this at the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories near Charlotte last spring. We will be returning to the Bartlett Labs in December 2018. Watch this space for news about that!

Bike The Buckeye State: Tour des Trees 2018

On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, our ace office team flipped a switch (proverbially speaking) and registration went live for the Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund. We’re using a new event management system this year, so the team let me be the test beastie up front to make sure everything was working well and that I couldn’t break anything (since I’m very good at breaking things). All went smoothly, so I officially signed up as Registered Rider #1 for this year’s Tour (my fourth), and I am very much looking forward to seeing who joins me in the weeks ahead, knowing some stalwart friends will sign on, and also that we’ll have some great new folks on the road with us this year.

The Tour will run about 530 miles over seven days: July 29 to August 4, inclusive. The route begins in Columbus, Ohio, works its way up to Cleveland and the shore of Lake Erie, then back to finish where we started. Our last day is a “slow roll” into the International Tree Climbing Championships, which is amazing to experience, for those who aren’t familiar with our industry. Click on the image below for an interactive guide to the planned route; we will be adding stops (one about every 25 miles) and/or community engagement events (a couple-three each day) in the months ahead, so there may be some small tweaks to get us in and out of our interim stops safely and efficiently, but this is the macro plan:

Nah, those aren't hills . . . just lumpy terrain. Easy!

I would love to have people from other eras of my life ride the Tour with me this year — Albanians, Iowans, Cackalackans, NR (“Never Rong”) Folks, Squids, Nucs, Rocky College Peeps, Chops, Engineers, Great Danes, Music Geeks, Blog Readers, Imaginary Online Friends, family members, work colleagues, what have you! We are capping the number of registered riders at 125 this year, and we expect the slots to fill up, so if this sounds like a thing you’d want to do, then please get your registration in sooner rather than later. We are also offering a Virtual Tour option this year that will allow you to ride, run, swim, unicycle or otherwise support the cause at a time, place, and distance that works for you — and at a fundraising level you set yourself.

What will you have to do after you register? Raise or pay $3,500 toward our research program (less if you do not ride the full seven days, or if you choose the virtual option), train so that you can manage at least a 15 mph rate over the course of the Tour (if you’re riding), get yourself and your bike to Columbus — and then relax and ride with full support (meals, lodging, road crews, etc.) from an amazing team of pros and volunteers with years and years of experience in bringing this amazing event to fruition. Our tour director, Paul Wood of Black Bear Adventures, is simply the best in the game, so you’ll be in good hands under his guidance and care.

We hope to raise a total of $325,000 from our riders this year for tree research, with the costs of the event itself defrayed by our corporate partners. (If you can’t ride, but you control the coffers at your place of business and would like to become a partner, holla!) The money goes to a great cause, of course, but an equally important part of the Tour is community outreach and engagement — helping folks of all ages understand why urban and community forests are so important to us all, how scientifically-rigorous research directly benefits the trees we live with, and the roles that our professional arborists and urban foresters play in preserving and protecting the canopy. We visit schools, we stop in community centers and parks, we plant trees — and best of all, we have the great Professor Elwood Pricklethorn with us all week to make sure that we always remember to plant the right tree in the right place and give trees a chance!

Want a peek at what that looks like? Here’s a little video of our traditional tree blessing done at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, where we planted a tulip poplar cultivated from the last of the colonial Liberty Trees — which came down at St. John’s College in Annapolis in 1999 after sustaining irreparable damage in Hurricane Floyd:

Hear the spirit? Feel the fun? Appreciate the camaraderie? See me wearing my yellow NAVY cap, 35 years and 1,000 yards from where I spent plebe summer? Wanna experience it all first hand in 2018? (Well, except for that Navy nostalgia bit). Click here for all the details, and hopefully to take that first step to being a part of a truly life-altering experience . . .

Patience, Rigor and Care: The Challenges and Opportunities of Tree Research

Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of ARBORIST NEWS, a publication of International Society of Arboriculture. This content is reprinted with full permission of the publisher.

In our day-to-day professional lives or as decision-makers in green industry businesses, we have the opportunity to sell research-based, scientific knowledge to our customers and clients, separating ourselves as skilled and trained professionals from those who may take a more “I have a hunch” or “We’ve always done it that way” approach to tree care. Our counsel can result in better decision-making by customers and clients regarding their trees, and at a very pragmatic level, our knowledge can also make our businesses more profitable, our workers safer, and our services more marketable, now and in the future.

The macro returns on investment from scientific tree research are becoming ever clearer as our collective body of knowledge grows slowly over time in incremental steps. In recent years, cutting-edge research has demonstrated a host of benefits to be gleaned from a healthy urban canopy, some of the benefits perhaps intuitive, but some of them frankly sublime and surprising, e.g. increased birth weights, increased retail sales, accelerated patient healing, enhanced student learning, increased urban immigration (including skilled workers and new industries), decreased violent crime, decreased ultraviolet radiation exposure, and increased sense of common ownership for public spaces.

Because trees are long-lived organisms, today’s tree care decisions will shape their health and impacts for many generations. ~80% of the U.S. population now lives in developed areas and that number is expected to increase to ~90% by 2050, mirroring global trends in urbanization. Since thriving urban forests are proven to be highly beneficial to community health and prosperity, investments in scientific tree research have and will continue to directly drive positive changes in the aggregate health of cities and suburbs. Scientifically quantifying the benefits of trees to the economy and environment makes it easier for governments, businesses and private citizens to justify and project their return on tree care investment.

Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund was founded in 1976 as the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust. In 2002, the Trust and the National Arborists Foundation merged, reincorporating as TREE Fund. (Note: I have been President and CEO of TREE Fund since 2015). Governed by a national board of trustees, we now fund work globally from our office in Naperville, Illinois. TREE Fund has awarded ~$3.3 million in grants since 2002, of which ~90% have directly supported primary basic and applied research initiatives. These funds have been highly leveraged and multiplied as tree care, urban planning, landscape design, construction and civil engineering professionals implement our findings and educate their constituents on the ever-evolving state of tree science.

As TREE Fund celebrates its 15th anniversary this year as an independent charitable trust, we find it valuable to pause and reflect for a moment on why our work matters — and why the demand for our grant-making programs continues to grow apace. To anchor such a reflection, it is crucial to actively think about what we mean when we discuss and market “research,” especially in an era when global communication networks make it effortless for individuals to access nearly infinite amounts of information of varying or unknown degrees of accuracy and currency.

At bottom line, TREE Fund approaches and values “research” as a set of investigative tools and protocols used to unearth and interpret new facts, revise accepted wisdom in the light of such new facts, and develop practical methods for implementing new or revised understandings in our areas of professional endeavor. Research tools and protocols must be anchored in intellectual and procedural rigor, a willingness to fairly consider alternative explanations for observations, an ability to compile and analyze data using generally accepted statistical and scientific methods, a willingness and ability to replicate findings, and the production of public reports that can be independently affirmed, cited and implemented by subject experts in the field of study, and trained professionals in applied settings.

There’s a whole lot more there, obviously, than the “Wikipedia says” or “a colleague told me that” or “I’ve got a secret method for” or “my gut instincts are” approaches that lay people and professionals alike often cite as “research.” And because of that, these tools and protocols cost a whole lot more — in dollars, time, training, and a host of other scarce resources — than casual, unscientific approaches to answering questions and responding to observations.  This, then, raises a related set of questions based on the returns on investment accrued from committing such scarce resources: how much should I myself, my business, my municipality, my school, and a host of other stakeholders invest in research, and what do we all get out of it at the end of the day?

While the slow growth and long lives of trees makes research and dissemination in our field quite time-consuming, often obscuring short-term return from research investments, we know that TREE Fund and related efforts over the years have directly contributed to:

  • Defining strategies for enhancing tree disease suppression and insect resistance;
  • Developing production, planting, fertilizing and soil amendment strategies to enhance tree growth and long-term survival;
  • Developing more environmentally-sensitive methods of plant management;
  • Producing genetically superior trees that can withstand the stress of urban environments;
  • Improving the quality of nursery grown trees and overall tree survival;
  • Combating diseases and pests without increasing pesticide use through the evolution of integrated pest management programs; and
  • Enhancing public and workforce safety through greater knowledge of why and how trees fail.

In an effort to further quantify the full reach of our work, TREE Fund recently awarded a grant to Drs. Andrew Koeser (University of Florida Gulf Coast’s Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology) and Richard Hauer (University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources) to evaluate the outcomes, outputs, and impacts of 15 years’ worth of primary basic and applied tree research. The results of this study should be available in early 2019. We also are undertaking an initiative in 2018 to create a more readily searchable, indexed database of research to be freely available on our website (treefund.org), to facilitate access to findings as they come through the academic publication cycle. Finally, we intend to conduct a new research needs evaluation in 2019 to ensure our grant lines are evolving with community needs.

We remain grateful to the faculty members, consultants, field researchers and students who have undertaken the often grueling work associated with tree research over the past 15 years, and for the supporters who have empowered their efforts.  Their work has made, and continues to make, a difference directly to all of us over time — even if our long-lived research subjects require us to watch them patiently and carefully with sharp eyes and careful measurements to ascertain steady, incremental advancement and improvement.

Notes: You may support our work by contributing to endowment or operating funds at the TREE Fund website, here. Thanks to Ward Peterson for his invaluable assistance with this article. Photos taken by J. Eric Smith at Urban Forest Nursery, Mt. Vernon, Washington

The Trees We Live With

When friends and new acquaintances outside of the tree care industry hear that I am the “President of TREE Fund,” they almost always express enthusiasm for my work, although the conversation is often a little more complicated than you might expect:

Friend: Oh cool, I love trees! TREE Fund is the one that does all those tree planting events, right?

Me: No, that’s not us.

Friend: Oh, so you’re protecting the Amazon Rain Forest, right?

Me: No, not really, sorry.

Friend: Ummm . . . so you’re the organization that buys up land and puts it into trust so it stays forever wild, right?

Me: No, we don’t do that either.

And so on, and so forth, sometimes for a few more rounds. In trying to cut to the chase politely on such conversations without diminishing people’s enthusiasm for my work with trees, the phrase I’ve found that seems to most quickly make their eyes light up with recognition is when I say: “We fund science that supports the trees we live with.”

People seem to embrace “the trees we live with” quickly and intuitively: these are the trees in our backyards, our street trees, the ones our children climb, the trees that shade our schools, the formal arrangements that make our civic architecture more grand, the little glades that provide green backdrops to our developments, that killer oak along the fairway that costs us a stroke every time we slice a tee shot into it, the canopy above the cemeteries we visit on Veterans and Memorial Days, and so many others. The “trees we live with” are a part of our everyday lives and experiences.

I know, of course, that the benefits of our research and education programs reach well beyond that simple rubric, but getting people outside our industry to think actively about the myriad choices and decisions that can surround a single familiar tree over its lifetime is a great first step in helping them understand not only what TREE Fund does, but also the benefits that professional tree care anchored in rigorous science can provide.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate “the trees we live with.” Bringing our work home for people that way can help us open the circle to new friends and supporters, one conversation at a time.

Note: This article ran in TREE Fund’s e-Bulletin today. You can subscribe by visiting our website, here, and you could also help us out a lot by making a contribution to the 15th Anniversary Appeal, or by shopping in the TREE Fund Store. The buttons on the homepage should be intuitive in terms of how to do any or all of these things, so thanks for clicking through and following/supporting us!

This live oak stands above my Dad’s grave in Beaufort National Cemetery. I consider it a family friend.

Autumn of Evidence

1. I am at home today, taking eight hours of PTO (paid time off). I don’t have any particular reason for doing so — except that I recently realized that I have to take several such days between now and the end of the year, lest I forfeit the time under my organization’s “use or lose” leave policy. I know plenty of other organizations have similar policies, and as a financial manager, I understand them at a conceptual level, since accrued PTO shows up as a liability on the balance sheet, so one does not want to just let it amass endlessly. Still, though: when you pause to think about it, it seems like a perverse sort of corporate practice that was likely spawned from group think in a forgotten Human Resources Department somewhere. “You there! You will go home now and you will like it! Or else!” And so I must, and so I do. Now: before you get all puffed up with self-righteous ire and send me a hateful post or three, yes, I do know that this a Big First World Problem to have — boo hoo hoo, me — and I am indeed grateful for the paid time off that I do receive, knowing how many millions of Americans are not so lucky. I wish they all were, truly and deeply. But  still, that said: this is conceptually stupid, right?

2. I recently got a copy of the wonderful 80 Aching Orphans, a four-disc, career-spanning retrospective box set from The Residents, who have been long-time favorites of mine. In case you don’t know the shtick, the incredibly prolific Residents have been churning out high quality, high concept music since the early ’70s, without ever publicly identifying themselves by name or showing their faces. The Eyeballs have been their longest lasting and best known disguise; in recent months, they’ve rolled out a new stage design involving plague masks and cattle. The Rez are currently touring and put out a fantastic new studio album, The Ghost of Hope (which I wrote about in April) earlier this year, but there’s still a bit of an “end of era” vibe as I listen to the new retrospective discs, since one of The Residents recently, all these years on, left the band and de-cloaked. Hardy Fox has served as band spokesperson since the ’70s as a member of the group’s management company, The Cryptic Corporation, but earlier this month, he let it be known on his website that he was “the anonymous primary composer, producer for The Residents from their beginning until 2015.” The Rez had announced that composer “Chuck Bobuck” had left the group earlier this year, so it wasn’t really surprising on some plane, since most seasoned observers “knew” that Bobuck was Hardy Fox, and that Cryptic Corporation’s other principle executive — Homer Flynn — was Randy Rose, The Singing Resident, formerly known as Mister Skull, among other names. But still . . . I honestly never expected either of them to admit as much, so it feels weird listening to their wonderful, wonderful work in a different head space, where they’re no longer all hewing to N. Senada’s “Theory of Obscurity” and denying their identities. At this point, Flynn-Rose-Skull is the last link to the original four-piece incarnation of the band/company (original Cryptic Corp. members Jay Clem and John Kennedy departed in the early ’80s), so here’s hoping Homer’s a-rarin’ to keep it going on behalf of the mostly retired team. I’ll always be willing to suspend disbelief and pretend I don’t know who he is, if I have to, just to get music this good.

3. Speaking of good music, I will likely post my 26th Annual Albums of the Year Report in the next couple of weeks, ideally before Thanksgiving. (Probably on another day when I’m not allowed to go to work, come to think of it). I went back through the past 12 months of listening and reading and pondering, and I pulled together my first cut of likely contenders for the title this past weekend: the list had 29 albums on it, though I will probably tweak it down to 25 in the final report. You readers got some favorites that you think I need to consider before I put pen to paper (or what passes for that in these digital days)? Holla in the comment section, if so! For perspective, here’s the list of what I thought passed muster at the high end of the scale at the mid-point in the year, and the intro to last year’s report cites the title-winners for the past quarter century. Jeez, I’m a creature of habit, aren’t I?

4. Bet you thought the title of this post had something to do with it appearing on Indictment Day, didn’t you? Sure seems like it could and should. But actually, it’s just a reversal of “Evidence of Autumn,” a B-side title from Genesis (the flip-over track to the 1980 “Misunderstanding” single) that I had used as a title for a similar omnibus post some years ago. As we get our first fall weather here in Chicago this week, the phrase/title popped into my head today when I started this post, and then when I realized I had already swiped it from Genesis, I just flipped the words, and it suddenly seemed even more seasonally apt for the days and weeks before us. But I don’t get political here, though, so you can take it as you read it, free and easy, no comment from me. How ’bout them pretty leaves out there, huh?