ACTrees Interview: Sam Bishop on Training Tree Volunteers

New York, NY (March 11, 2013)

Sam Bishop, ACTrees Board Member and Director of Education at TreesNY, talks about the vital benefits of street trees, and how citizen pruner volunteers are having a decided impact on New York City’s trees. Bishop will be a presenter at ACTrees next National Webcast, “Volunteer Pruning Program Essentials” on March 21, 2013 1:00 – 2:00pm EST. Register Now. Here’s our interview:

Sam Bishop trains a new class of TreesNY Citizen Pruners.

Sam Bishop trains a new class of TreesNY Citizen Pruners.

ACTrees: You went from being a lawyer to an ISA Certified Arborist working with a community nonprofit. What was your motivation?

SB: I wound up at TreesNY by chance, and liked it so much that I stayed. My father had been involved with TreesNY for years, and he took me out watering and caring for trees when I was little, so there was that connection as well.

ACTrees: What do you see as the most vital benefits of street trees? How are they making a difference in New York neighborhoods?

SB: The most vital benefits of street trees as I see them are stormwater capture and shade. My experience is that most people who are not tree lovers don’t think about the indirect benefits of trees like stormwater capture, as opposed to the direct benefits like beautification or shade, but they do think about when their street/house floods. In New York City we are having an increase in strong summer storms, and that is resulting in more sewage overflows. Those storms are in part driven by hotter summer days, and it seems every year or two New York City sets a new record for electricity consumption in the summer, so we need the cooling benefits of trees and shade as well.

TreesNY staff and Citizen Pruners inspect New York City trees.

TreesNY staff and Citizen Pruners inspect New York City trees.

ACTrees: What was the motivation to start TreesNY citizen pruner training?

SB: The Citizen Pruner Program started in the 1970’s as a response to cutbacks in the Parks Departments budgets, which meant little or no tree care was being done. The goals were first to reduce the amount of care that the Parks Department had to do for new trees, so they could focus on larger, older trees that required professionals for things like pruning and removal. The second, goal was to help young trees stay healthier, so that they would need less care and have fewer problems as they matured. The final goal was to increase public knowledge of street trees as a resource, and to foster a deeper sense of public ownership and public appreciation of trees.

ACTrees: How has the citizen pruner program been received by New York residents?

SB: The Citizen Pruner Program has been received very well by New York City residents. We have trained more than 11,000 New York City residents of every possible background. When we’re out in the field people often stop and thank us for our work, and sometimes we even meet other Citizen Pruners.

ACTrees: How does TreesNY use its citizen pruners? How do they support the urban tree canopy?

SB: TreesNY holds work days where we invite our Citizen Pruners to come and join us in caring for trees in various areas in the city. Citizen Pruners also prune and care for trees of their own initiative all over New York City. I met with a group that gardens in tree pits on the concrete bike land dividers on several avenues, and they have some Citizen Pruners working with them to help care for the trees planted in those pits. Citizen Pruners also work as a reporting mechanism for the Parks Department, as a group of people who are trained in tree care who can spot and report larger problems as well as things like vandalism or illegal tree removal.

Don’t miss learning more from Bishop at ACTrees next National Webcast, “Volunteer Pruning Program Essentials” on March 21, 2013 1:00 – 2:00pm EST. Register Now.

Sam Bishop II is Director of Education for TreesNY in New York, NY. He is also an ACTrees Board Member, and the first recipient of the Marcia Dew Bansley Award, an annual award that provides funding for a representative from an ACTrees member organization to join the ACTrees Board for one year. Bishop has been instrumental in growing the TreesNY Citizen Pruner course, which has trained over 11,000 citizens in tree care, biology, identification, and pruning. Bishop is an ISA Certified Arborist Municipal Specialist.