The Nature Conservancy, a convening member of Forest for All NYC, is pleased to announce the release of a new report on urban forestry workforce training opportunities within New York City. Learning and Growing: Urban Forestry Workforce Training in NYC was commissioned to advance a key goal of Forest for All NYC—cultivating urban forestry careers. Programs serving communities with less access to formal higher education including people of color, lower-income individuals, residents of public housing, and people with limited English proficiency were prioritized for study. Thirty-six programs offered by 26 organizations are examined in the report.
“The urban forest is an essential resource that cools our city, protects coastal areas, absorbs and retains rainwater, and generally makes our lives healthier and happier,” said Emily Nobel Maxwell, New York Cities Program Director, The Nature Conservancy. “As the serious threat and real dangers of heat and flooding become more severe and frequent due to climate change, New York City needs its urban forest more than ever. And the NYC urban forest needs a robust workforce ready to care for it. For this reason, a better understanding of the workforce landscape—from training programs to employer needs—helps set the stage for a more just, healthier future.”
In 2021, Forest for All NYC released the NYC Urban Forest Agenda, a roadmap towards the equitable and just protection, maintenance, expansion, and promotion of the NYC urban forest. Increasing investment and opportunity in urban forestry careers is one of the main goals stated in the Agenda, in order to ensure a workforce to care for the urban forest is adequately trained and available. Urban forestry jobs are defined as jobs that involve working in some capacity with the urban forest, such as through planting, maintaining, and long-term planning for urban trees. Recruiting from communities that have historically had less access to urban forestry as a formal career pathway was also endorsed as a strategy to increase environmental and economic equity.
Challenges for employers, organizations, and workers included low availability of living wage jobs in the urban forestry sector, a need for more funding and capacity to build and run programs, and a general lack of public awareness of potential career pathways. Opportunities included a high level of interest in urban forestry careers among young people as indicated by competitive acceptance rates into various programs and internships, a diverse array of specific skills already included in existing offerings, and robust public sector support for training in industry-related skills, including through Department of Parks and Recreation, New York City Housing Authority, and the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
With more information about the current local landscape of urban forestry workforce training opportunities, public officials, advocates, and educators can make more informed decisions about how to tackle challenges, direct their resources and develop their programming.
“Recruiting, training, and preparing the next generation of urban forestry professionals is critical to ensuring the expansion of urban forests for generations to come,” said NYC Parks Deputy Commissioner for Environment and Planning Jennifer Greenfeld. “At Parks, we are committed to providing and expanding opportunities for professional growth along with our partners. As a Forest for All NYC member, we are thrilled to see this report highlight the value of urban forestry as a possible career path for New Yorkers.”
Erika Svendsen, PhD, Research Social Scientist, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, said “The field of urban forestry has tremendous potential. This report adds to the discussion of how to build a diverse, well-trained workforce. The urban forest in New York City is more than trees—it’s the people and infrastructures that support the trees as well. By better understanding the current state of the urban forestry field in NYC, we can better plan for how to expand and grow the urban forest by developing the workforce. It was particularly interesting and encouraging to see how many of the current offerings in New York City represent a partnered effort from multiple public and private sector entities.”
“As part of Forest for All NYC, Trees New York is committed to helping the NYC urban forest thrive for generations to come. Cultivating urban forestry careers is an important part of reaching that goal,” said Nelson Villarrubia, Executive Director, Trees New York. “I feel fortunate to work in such a rewarding occupation and my goal is to pay it forward. Trees New York already plays a critical role in strengthening urban forestry career pathways by introducing youth and adults to professional pathways that involve caring for the urban forest. This report will help us continue making the case for ongoing investments in urban forestry training, right here in New York City.”
“Through the CUNY Internship Program, Natural Areas Conservancy has offered over 100 paid internships to CUNY students. We know from experience just how much enthusiasm there is for the field of urban forestry in New York City,” said Elizabeth Jaeger, Deputy Director for Public Programs and Operations at Natural Areas Conservancy. “Understanding the opportunities and challenges of this area of practice is an important step towards tapping into that incredible potential and growing the urban forestry industry. Natural Areas Conservancy is proud to have partnered with colleagues from Forest for All NYC to guide and direct this research.”
Renee Ruhl, Project Manager, Horticulture and Green Infrastructure for The HOPE Program, said “Urban forestry is a developing industry, and we need a skilled workforce to meet the challenges of growing and sustaining the urban forest. We are proud of our innovative programs that help New Yorkers gain long-term financial stability in a variety of fields, including urban forestry, horticulture and green infrastructure. As a member of Forest for All NYC, we look forward to using this new report to strengthen our existing offerings and identify new collaborations and partnerships moving forward.”
Learning and Growing: Urban Forestry Workforce Training in NYC can be accessed online at ForestforAll.nyc. In 2021, Just Nature NYC, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and The Nature Conservancy in New York released a report defining and outlining the complexity and variety of local nature-based jobs, Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in New York City.