President's Perspective - Winter 2020

By Jimi Scheid on Monday, December 28, 2020

WCISA President’s Message – Be The Change

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” - William Arthur Ward

It’s easy to sit back and provide meaningless commentary on the states of things. It’s far more daunting to get up and act on those notions. We live in a trying time – a year in which very few are looking back fondly. Unrest seems to exist everywhere. And everyone seemingly has a social media account (or three) in which to voice their displeasure or, more rarely, their faith. I cannot tell you the number of “friends” whose Facebook accounts I have had to unfollow to keep the level of vitriol at bay in my life. There are acquaintances who obsess over widespread issues of concern but really have no influence on: national politics, social injustices, the pandemic, and so on. There are people whose entire contribution towards rectifying these themes exists in the blurbs, screeds, kitschy memes, shared weblinks and angry rants broadcast to a tiny bubble of usually like-minded friends who respond with a thumbs-up, or tiny fragment of detractors whose minds are rarely changed. What happened to posting reflective photos of nature and trees, funny images of kids and pets getting into ridiculous predicaments or, dare I say, a self-indulgent shot of the meal you last ate?

Despite the bitter chatter, I think what we all are striving for is a positive change - a way to leave a meaningful impact on the world we live in. We are people who see past our comforts, looking for opportunities to improve the conditions where we live and work for ourselves and those we care about. Our natural empathy is overwhelmed by things outside of our control.

How do we look beyond a helpless pessimism or a diluted optimism, and convert our energies into realistic, tangible results? Why, as William Ward posits, do we not adjust the sails on our journey, instead of complaining or expecting changes in our environment? Or, to paraphrase a great American poet, do we need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows? Two obvious drivers for our inactivity are fear or complacency. Or a lack of dire necessity.

In the year 2020, I think necessity for change has upheld a more influential role than anyone could have predicted. It has forced all of us to confront change. But is it a change of conformance or of creation? A design of ourselves or another’s? Is the former weighted as heavily with the latter? Have you looked at the pandemic as an obstacle or an opportunity? Assuming you’ve envisioned the latter, where have you personally found the initiative for your own change? Have you found more efficient and productive ways to do your job? Have you taken a new job altogether? Are you actively involved in making a difference, where needed, or are you playing it safe? Have you witnessed changes to our industry, in how we care for trees, how we adequately finance the work, how technology and ingenuity have been ingrained in doing so, in how you communicate your expertise to your constituents or clients? Have you thought to share these resources with others in your social circles, in written articles to media outlets or trade publications such as this one, in professional talks or presentations, in field demos or tailgate safety sessions, at local city council meetings? Or are you waking up every day as if it’s promised to you, merely punching a clock and collecting a check, letting others do the thinking and silently complaining about the problems you encounter? Are you exercising your professional expertise and passion to its fullest?

Having just recently attended the 2020 WCISA Annual Conference & Trade Show, I am uplifted, and impassioned, to know that our Chapter is a part of a positive change. Given the local policies in place that limit in-person meetings, Bruce Barr, John Crandell, Past President Molly Sinnott and the whole conference planning team should be applauded for having to willingly roll with the punches and still pull off a great virtual event. A tip of the hat as well to Epicenter Management for coordinating the logistics and implementation of the virtual platform with very few noticeable glitches; a great feat given its inception and scale. While this venue was not in their original plans, the planners adapted and overcame to provide what I thought was an excellent educational and networking experience. One day, I imagine, many will look back on this pivotal event and see it as the originator of what standard hybrid conferences will become. If the approximately 300 people that attended this inaugural outing is any indication, I feel emboldened as to what our future holds.

How else is the Chapter working to be the change we need? One primary mechanism is the recent review and revision out WCISA’s Strategic Plan. Originally developed in 2016, the document has reached its maturity and is in need of reevaluation to ensure our objectives, goals and performance indicators are still consistent with our mission, relevant to our current environment and representative of the direction our organization is heading in. To that end, the Board of Directors has just embarked on the rewrite of the plan under the guidance of Kevin Martlage of Nextier Advisors and formerly of the ISA. In our first session, we discussed the objectives we needed to achieve our organization’s goals. In the next session, we will explore how to implement these objectives to meet our goals. I very much look forward to navigating this planning process and seeing how we can ensure its efficacy. There will hopefully be more to share about this in a future issue of the magazine.

In my first message, I mentioned that I hoped to express more of my own Presidential goals for my term in successive editions of this publication. While I’ll admit that the following stand as the loftiest of the bunch, I still fully believe that they warrant some degree of attention if positive change is to occur.

  1. Licensing of Arborists or Professional Tree Workers within Western Chapter States. I realize this would be a monumental undertaking and not likely to be achieved in only a year. That said, there is a strong and growing need to see our industry legitimized by upgrading ISA Certifications to Licenses officially recognized by all entities engaged with or officiating arboricultural practices. I see such a move as giving our professionals greater standing in their field with official state recognition and testing. The response has been generally favorable in other states that have created such distinctions, to include Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland & New Jersey. If we want our industry to be taken seriously, I feel we need to strongly consider moving in this direction.
  2. Reforming Professional Practices for Utility Arboriculture. Overhead powerlines, which constitute the conveyance method for electricity in most areas, are a design that has changed very little since its inception over 130 years ago. During that time though, the management practices of vegetation and trees near those lines, or on private property proximally located, have often been aggressive, usually to the detriment of the environment. There are many utility company employees and contractors performing improper tree risk assessments, pruning, and removal work to meet company desires to reduce risk and related liability. Untrained individuals are having a detrimental impact on the health of our rural and urban forests, undermining industry best management practices in both arboriculture and forestry, and demeaning the ISA’s Code of Ethics. Utility vegetation management work should adhere to current standards and be governed as such by respective authoritative bodies.
  3. Certifying Nursery Stock, Growing and Sale Standards. While practices have perhaps improved in recent years, there is still an alarming frequency of poor-quality nursery stock being sold to consumers. Offloading blighted or declining trees, root-bound or unpruned specimens, or stems with trunk or insect damage is far too common a reality. Additionally, many wholesale entities are not diversifying their species palette in any attempt to meet current or future customer and climatic demands. Quality and diversity issues are being exacerbated by the unassuming customer who is reluctant to contest such practices (often receiving bulk purchases via delivery truck hours before installation). In doing so, this system is diminishing the viability and resilience of urban forests once installed on the landscape, while only adding to their maintenance needs. Any current nursery certification programs, such as those from the CA Dept. of Food and Agriculture, are focused almost exclusively on pest introduction or relate only to certain species on a voluntary basis. Other BMP guides exist as well but are often overlooked.

While solutions may be currently unclear, I do not believe that answers come without first posing the questions. To that end, I’d like to move the dialogue forward with anyone who has feelings on these matters, regardless the perspective they hold. Some topics will hopefully be debated by current Chapter committees; others could use additional outside input and perhaps an ad-hoc group. Regardless of the formalities, ideas and their purveyors are welcomed. If you have input on any of the above, please reach out to me at

I’m sure that many of you having now digested my thoughts are telling yourself that accomplishing any of these goals are a pipe dream at best. I’ll attest, much as I did to the Board during my first meeting in July, that I recognize the challenges in making serious headway on any of these within a year’s time. As your President, however, I’d be remiss not to address widespread issues our industry faces and keep them as active discussion topics. I do not want to look back at the things I should have done but didn’t for fear of failure. Being the change requires a courage and vulnerability not necessarily found behind the inconspicuous safety of a keyboard. I freely put myself in the spotlight for your criticism.

In the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson’s character R.P. McMurphy exclaims to the other asylum patients betting against him in an unsuccessful attempt to lift a large wash basin from its moorings – “But I tried, didn’t I? At least I did that.” I would hate to think any of us would rather wonder “what if”?

Happy holidays to all our members and to a bright(er) 2021! Stay in touch!

For the Trees (and those that manage them),

Jimi Scheid, WCISA President