Digging in to urban forestry
Hi Women in Wood! My name is Natalie, and I am an Urban Forester! There....I said it!
When I was attending University, urban forestry was not a “thing”. I grew up in New Brunswick where trees were just a part of our lives and did not require a lot of work to keep them healthy and thriving. In deciding on my career path, I had it narrowed down to two choices...physiotherapy or forestry. Physiotherapy would have fed my compassion for people and forestry was something I felt. I loved to be outside and had a true appreciation for trees (although I did not know why at the time). I ultimately made the decision to pursue a career in Forestry as I wanted a job that kept me outdoors.
I decided to take a leap of faith and entered the Forest Engineering program and UNB. After my first year there, I realized that my passion did not lie in the engineering side and made the switch to the strictly Forestry based program. This was met with trepidation from family members who felt that I could not make a “good” living without an advanced degree that the Forest Engineering side would provide. You could be an Engineer they said! Well, I did not want to be an engineer, I wanted to be a forester!! Imagine their disdain when I accepted an internship in Denver, Colorado as an Urban Forester the summer before my last year of school. I fell in love!! This aspect of forestry was completely foreign to me but what I discovered was that I had a passion for talking to people about their trees and a new love was formed! How do I return to my final year of school and tell everyone I was not going to be a Forester but in fact I was going to be an Urban Forester! What is that??!
Well, the day after graduation, I packed up my belongings in two Rubbermaid containers and hopped on a greyhound bus for what turned out to be a 52-hour trek across the US for my destination of Denver Colorado! 20 years later, I have established an excellent career for myself and have moved about an hour north of Denver to Fort Collins where I run a large office for Davey Tree. I have experienced many highs and lows in my career. When I started out as a plant health care technician, I was barely making a living wage and struggling to pay my student loans, but I loved it and could see the potential for growth in the industry and with my company. Hard work and perseverance have paid off! I have met amazing arborists and foresters from around the world that I can now call friends. This industry, whether it be forestry, urban forestry, or arboriculture, is filled with amazing people doing extraordinary things for our trees and the environment we live in.
As a female in a male dominated field, there will be speed bumps and tough times. Surround yourself with the people that will help support you and cheer you on as you navigate the muddy waters. Go outside your comfort zone, educate yourself and continually push to find your place! Work hard, stick to your conviction, and know that you bring a tremendous amount of value to this profession!
I would also encourage all the Women in Wood out there to come join us for the Women in Arboriculture Monthly Zoom Happy Hour!! It occurs on the second Tuesday of every month and is a great time to chat with strong women forestry/urban forestry leaders from across the globe! The group is spearheaded by Rebecca Johnson (Arborholic Rebecca). Email her to get signed up for the newsletter; firstname.lastname@example.org. Hint…the zoom link stays the same every month!
Natalie McNeill is a District Manager for The Davey Tree Expert Company in Fort Collins, CO with more than 20 years of experience in Arboriculture and Urban Forestry. She is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist #RM2353B, Certified TreeCare Safety Professional #2237 and Tree Risk Assessment Qualified. Natalie was recently awarded the 2020 International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) True Professional of Arboriculture Award as well as the ISA Rocky Mountain Chapter Arborist of the Year award. Outside of the obvious love of trees and helping them thrive in urban settings, Natalie’s passion lies in the education, growth and development of the future leaders in the arboriculture and urban forestry fields. She has been stepping outside the box since she began her career and strives to find new and sustainable ways to encourage strong, educated men and women to pursue her chosen career path.