Name: Josh Petter

Title: Urban Forest Planner, City of Burien

Favorite Tree: Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), native to the northeastern U.S. It has subtle exfoliating bark that smells of wintergreen. It is a longer-lived birch and forms attractive groves in the mountains, perfect for skiing.

What was your path to your current role as a professional?

My first official introduction to the tree world was a dendrology course at the University of Vermont, which got me hooked on trees and I’ve been working with trees ever since. After graduating, I took a job at a tree nursery growing and selling woody ornamentals. I came out to the PNW in 2016 to pursue a M.S. in Forestry at Oregon State University. While at Oregon State, I worked in the urban forestry department at the City of Eugene, Oregon during the summer. Once I graduated, I decided to stay in the PNW and took a job at Tree Solutions Inc in Seattle, where I worked as a consulting arborist for almost four years. As of March 1, 2022, I am working for the City of Burien in the planning department. Aside from my “official path,” I was influenced by a number of different mentors and personal experiences, which reinforced my desire to be in the field of urban forestry.

Tell us about a tree-related project, initiative, or accomplishment (past or present) that you’re particularly proud of or excited about.

While working at Tree Solutions, I was involved in a pull testing project for Washington State Parks to test the root plate stability of a group of trees, where we pulled 53 trees. At a basic level, pull testing involves applying a static load and measuring the tilt or inclination at the base of the tree and then modeling a dynamic force, like the wind. This project was exciting because we were employing a tool and method that is relatively new and underutilized. While this individual project was exciting, it also made me realize how much there is still to learn in the field of arboriculture! As an industry we have the potential to grow, and I am excited to see what happens in this field in the next couple decades.

What are your thoughts on the future of urban and community forests in Washington? Is there anything we should be preparing for, or looking forward to?

The future of urban and community forests in Washington has a lot of potential. There is a growing recognition of the value of urban trees and urban forestry and an increased level of support. This type of recognition is leading to the creation of positions like mine, which in turn can have an impact on the broader community. As arboriculture develops as a science and management discipline, we have a greater array of tools at our disposal and an increased capacity to make a difference. As urban foresters, arborists, and tree people, we can introduce people to the fascinating components of nature right in their backyards and make peoples’ lives better daily.

In your opinion, what could we, as urban forestry stakeholders in WA, be doing differently or better to advance the cause of healthy urban trees in our state?

I think we need to do a better job with equitable engagement to ensure we are addressing urban forestry issues across our communities. We could also be doing more to engage different aspects of the “green industry.” In both instances, it is easier to work within the established or accessible arboriculture community; however, the broader community and industry are critical to the success of urban forestry. For example, in the green industry, things like landscape maintenance, landscape design, and irrigation all play a major role in the state of our current and future urban forest. We should make an effort to broaden our partners and allies as much as possible.

Please join us in warmly welcoming and congratulating Josh Petter in his new position at the City of Burien!


We challenge our readers to nominate someone for this article who represents the changing Faces of Urban Forestry. They may be a volunteer, a tree board member, a student, an early career professional, a local elected official, a college professor, or a tribal, county, municipal, or non-profit employee, or anyone else that you think deserves a chance to share their opinions and have their voice heard through this publication.

You can nominate yourself or someone else by sending an email to urban_forestry@dnr.wa.gov. Please include the person’s name and contact information along with a few sentences on why they are a good fit for this article. Nominees’ enthusiasm, commitment to their work, and unique perspective is more important than their credentials, title, or tenure.

All nominations will be considered by DNR Urban Forestry staff to feature in upcoming editions of Tree Link.