Name: Philip Bennett
Professional Role: Urban Forester for the City of Snoqualmie & City Arborist for the City of Clyde Hill
Other Affiliations: President, Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (PNW-ISA)
Favorite Tree: European columnar hornbeam, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ (Tough to name just one)
What was your career path into Urban Forestry:
I took one of those “winding roads” into the field of urban forestry. I have a degree in English literature from the University of Wales and began my career as an environmental educator in California. Although I loved teaching kids about the natural world, I needed to move into a career that would provide the opportunity to own a house and raise a family. I chose arboriculture, because I have always loved trees and working outside with others.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Working in two small towns, I have diverse tasks that keep me very engaged. I spend most of my time in the field, following Alex Shigo’s advice: “Touch Trees”. I plant, mulch, prune, treat diseases, risk-assess, climb and remove trees. I love to try new varieties of street and park trees. Last Fall, I planted Maackia amurensis ‘MaacNificent’ for the first time, and I’m excited to see how they turn out.
I also have time to dream and vision my programs forward, with the help of others. Those connections with friends in urban forestry have taught me as much as classes and books. I have the privilege of working with people of great knowledge and passion, including: Jim Barborinas, Paul Hans Thompson, Anna Heckman, Jason Battles, Rob Williams, Thomas Evans, Nicole Sanders, Michael Clark, Charlie Vogelheim, Joanna Nelson de Flores, and David Steiner to name a few. I wouldn’t be who I am, if they weren’t who they are.
What is the biggest challenge facing our urban forests?
I see two big challenges facing urban and community forests today. The first is climate change.
In Snoqualmie this last five years I have seen increased mortality in all age classes of Western hemlock (our state tree, for how much longer?), Western red cedar, as well as decline in bigleaf maple. What can be done about climate change by us as urban foresters? There are tools for assessing the vulnerability of community forest to climate change, and strategies for adaptation to the new conditions. One example strategy would be to source conifer tree seedlings from genetic stock that is found in the southern end of the ranges of our native trees.
The second challenge is the disconnection of people from nature.
I was privileged to grow up in rural England and run around in the woods and fields at will. Being an Arborist, for me, just stems from that. I don’t see children in the forests around here. It’s a bad sign for trees, and our society. People are often not comfortable living around trees, and part of our task as arborists is to educate people, not just work on trees.
Why are you involved with the PNW-ISA chapter?
Early in my career, my friend and mentor Jim Barborinas told me I should get involved with the Chapter. He said that it would help me to grow professionally, and that we’re all responsible for driving arboriculture forward. He was right, on both counts. Our Chapter has an extraordinary and unique reputation in the global community of arboriculture, because we have been the creators of certifications, qualifications and programs that have increased the knowledge and capabilities of arborists. Our small corner of the world is driving the whole world forward in the field of arboriculture.
I hope to see you all at our Annual Training Conference in Eugene Oregon, October 6-9 this year: It promises to be a lot of fun.
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