Urban forest jobs program starts off on upward ‘Treejectory’

Courtesy photo

Tree San Diego, a local nonprofit, has launched its 2023 of its paid education and workforce development program Treejectory+.

Thirty new candidates have been confirmed for the spring session and the program is on target to reach its annual goal of graduating 50 participants this year. Treejectory+ serves disadvantaged and low-income communities through urban forestry focused education, training and job placement. It provides hands-on, guided experience led by ISA Certified Arborists who teach participants about industry best practices. In addition, 150 trees will be planted in those communities.

The program is a hybrid of virtual classrooms, field days in San Diego County and a tree related conference. Participants dedicate 6 to 8 hours per week to the program and are paid $18 per hour in contracted positions.

In the past decade, the need for qualified urban foresters, educators and tree stewards has grown sharply. During the COVID-19 crisis, substantial budget cuts in nearly all San Diego County jurisdictions reduced forestry initiatives, leaving many communities without achievable planting plans and a workforce to implement them.

In disadvantaged communities, where investment in environmental projects is lacking and urban forest expansion is desperately needed, nonprofits like Tree San Diego are directly improving the triple bottom line through projects like Treejectory+.

Tree San Diego Director Elektra Fike-Data said it is 50 per year, so by the end of the grant cycle we are hoping to graduate up to 150 graduated candidates through the program.

“We have high hopes of finding job placement for those as well,” she said. “We have two cohorts, one in spring and one in the fall. It is pretty flexible on how many people we can take in a cohort, and we are averaging around 25 per cohort.”

Fike-Data sad the forestry industry is facing the challenge of a depleted workforce, so the urban forestry subsector in San Diego County needs all entry and mid-entry level applicants for existing job openings.

“Our pledge that we are offering qualified candidates are to be hire-ready for those positions,” she said. “But also put them in touch with hiring industries, not just in San Diego County, but throughout the southwest as well neighboring states. We have some really great partners providing job descriptions for them throughout the program. We are also conducting office hours and informational interviews so once they are completing the program, they can talk one-on-one with hiring managers or leads in the industry to explore how they can cultivate their education and awareness of the workforce so they can be prime applicants for the hiring cycle.”

Fike-Data said urban forestry is a natural solution to climate change.

“It is one of our greatest assets in an urban environment,” she said. “Tree San Diego wants to find creative ways to bring trees and the benefit of trees to all San Diegans throughout the county. We can do a lot more with trees, but we also need to find ways to tell that story better. Not only with data, but the co-benefits, the eco-benefits that are bringing out almost immeasurable data and impacts to regions like urban heat islands, extreme heat in Southern California, especially in San Diego where the canopy is low. These urban forestry projects bring those trees to residents who have an immediate impact. It is a direct impact through planting projects.”

Fike-Data said many people see the benefits of trees as cleaning the air, but many people do not know that trees lower energy costs, like shading a very warm building.

“You are bringing your electricity down so that is an economic benefit,” she said. “You are not stressing the grid at that time if you can shelter your building. But there is a lot more going on in the background. You are talking about systems and trees that play a role in biodiversity habitat restoration, the value of your home if you have a mature tree in front of your home, so it bolsters the price of your home by including trees.”

She said that trees also usually have a story.

“Everyone has a screen of their favorite tree, or they remember something from their childhood,” she said. “There is a connection in the community, so we do want to preserve our trees here. It is a near and dear passion project for a lot of people, but even speaking with our arborists, I look around every day and I think many of these trees were placed by people. We have folks around the county that have literally planted the urban forest. And, they have a memory associated with that. It is so neat to carry that forward for decades. I value that in many levels with our community. It is so neat to see people plant a tree and bring them out a year later to see it and watch it grow.”

Tree San Diego is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to increasing the quality, density and sustainability of San Diego’s urban forest for the benefit of people, the environment, and the future. This project is funded by the California Climate Investments and CAL FIRE Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program. More information about this grant can be found: www.fire.ca.gov/grants/urbanand-community-forestry-grantprograms.