24 Dec 2016 | President’s perspective: Winter 2016

Predicting the future of arboriculture

I Am hoping that 2017 will continue to be a good year for our organization and all the tree industry professionals throughout in the Western Chapter!  It’s Thanksgiving day, I’ve got a bad cold, I lack focus, I’m staring at a blank page and struggling with a theme for my message. It then dawns on me that I’d like to say something about the future of our organization, how the practice of arboriculture might change, and what lies ahead for us and the urban forests we manage. Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have some thoughts I’d like to share.

It’s always easy in hindsight to identify what we got wrong or what we should have done when things go awry. But predicting outcomes is difficult at best. If you want something to happen or not happen, or are looking for a certain outcome, you must be prepared for it. As WCISA president, I can tell you that this is not easy. It requires identifying needs, developing workable solutions, building consensus, setting objectives and time lines, taking action, and then determining if you were successful. Needless to say, this requires a concerted effort throughout the year by our Executive Director, her administrative team, the Board and its officers, and hopefully with support from the membership. 

Just a year ago, we were all very concerned because an “El Niño” winter had been forecast for Southern California. Powerful storms were predicted that would likely wreak havoc throughout the region. The LA Times called it the “Godzilla El Niño”, so you can understand our concern. The arborist community started pruning the trees most likely to fail. But, “El Niño” never arrived. Instead, we had to deal with the effects of another dry winter.

Although we had been preparing for El Niño, we got La Niña. At that point, our trees were very near their tipping point and visibly declining. Our focus quickly shifted from pruning to preventing dieback and mortality due to increased susceptibility to boring insects, and canker and root diseases, as well as extreme drought stress. Everyone had been counting on ample rainfall to end the devastating drought. We know that the weather can be unpredictable, but our initial response was appropriate considering the forecast was based on the best information available. Although, we had no control over the weather, we did have control over our response to it. You just have to be prepared when things don’t work out the way you expected.

It’s human nature to want to predict the future. The ancient people often tried with little real success. The Farmer’s Almanac, though, has been reasonably accurate at predicting the weather. But its success is based on weather patterns and probability – what’s happened in the past is likely to happen in the future. As H.G. Wells was quoted saying “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” It means change is inevitable. We may not know what the future holds, but we can continue to adapt and be better prepared for what it brings.

Some of us are “early adopters” of technology, others take a wait and see approach or reject new technology—luddites. Where do you fit in this scheme? Have you been planting the same tree species for the past 25 years? Do your pruning specs comply with current ANSI A300 Pruning Standards? Nonetheless, you should be planting species that are more climate-adapted trees, and you should also be using the best management practices when you prune.

I find myself making choices based on how it could affect the outcome in the future. In our culture, we are bombarded by predictions — some good, others not. Success is often based on foresight — the ability to see into the future using your past experiences and knowledge of how the world works to predict future outcomes. This involves being well-informed on the topic by asking the right questions, making prudent assumptions or decisions. For example, when you meet with a financial advisor, you’re asked many questions: How much money do you plan to invest? What are your goals? When do you plan to retire? How much money will you need? What level of risk are you comfortable with, etc.? With that done, your advisor can make recommendations based on a careful assessment of investment options that suit your needs.

Engaging with your professional community is a good way to gather information, discuss issues, explore management options and strategies, and to be well-informed. By talking with colleagues, business associates, and university extension specialists, you are more likely to make the right decisions or deal more effectively with unexpected outcomes. I particularly enjoy talking to municipal arborists about the challenges they face managing large inventories of trees, and hearing about their plans for the future. They have more issues to deal with than in the past, so careful planning based on foresight is critical to sustaining a healthy, diverse, and extensive urban forest. 

I also spend time with commercial arborists talking about what’s driving their business. Is business better because the economy has improved? Is it that deferred maintenance can’t be put off any longer? Is it because more trees are succumbing to new and destructive insects and/or diseases, or to drought? I also inquire about employment opportunities and employee training and development. I’m interested to know if the industry is taking advantage of the training opportunities offered by WCISA, or if there are areas of training the chapter could explore. Most arborists get their start in the commercial sector and then move up to management positions, or on to their own businesses. So receiving quality training is critical to the future of the profession.

My job also involves meeting with developers, landscape architects and contractors, civil engineers, city planners, landscape maintenance supervisors, etc., and of course members of the public. Their decisions can influence the health, longevity, and value of trees, as well as the benefits the trees provide to the community or owner. Whenever the opportunity arises, I take the time to share my expertise regarding tree care to help them make better decisions.

Although we can’t predict the future, as tree professionals, our job is to be prepared for every eventuality.

Lisa Smith


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