Blog Post

What’s it like to be an Urban Forester in Hawaiʻi? A Visit from Smart Trees Pacific

There are hundreds of urban forestry organizations around the country (and thousands more around the world!) that each in their own way work to ensuring the long term study and survival of urban tree canopies.

 A rad organization, Alliance for Community Trees (ACT), exists to help harness all our collective knowledge and create more capacity for community foresters. Earlier this year, thanks to an ACT grant, Smart Trees Pacific traveled to the District (from Hawaiʻi!) to learn more about what we do. We were ready to teach and offer insight to them, but boy oh boy we learned so much from them as well!

 You too can harness the power of collective thinking and learn from others – join us at our Green Cities Summit on Dec 4 where we’ll discuss all things on the health and welfare of trees in our increasingly developed landscapes.

Two representatives from Smart Trees Pacific, Wai Lee (Executive Director) and Jolie Goldenetz Dollar (Arborist and Project Consultant), spent an action-packed week in D.C. learning more about how we restore, enhance, and protect our urban canopy. In a few days we discussed how we work with partners and volunteers to how we were able to expand to serve a record number of communities across the city and we even took a trip to our farm. 

Overall, Smart Trees Pacific aims to promote and provide resources to select, install, establish, and care for trees to provide solutions for the natural and human environment. Something we can definitely get behind! They also have residential and community planting programs and a dedicated cadre of Citizen Foresters to help measure and map the trees throughout Hawai’i.

 We have dozens of staff (and even more volunteers!) dedicated to planting and studying D.C.’s urban canopy to help it survive. So how does a group of only seven work across eight main islands? 

Casey Tree Farm Nursery Manager Todd, left, describes our planting techniques to Smart Trees Pacific Executive Director Wai Lee.

 “We work closely with our partners and we have ‘councilmembers’ on each island to help keep us abreast of particular local challenges or happenings.” Wai mentioned. 

 Working together with partners and volunteers to accomplish our shared goals is definitely a similarity we share. Another surprising one? Similar planting challenges – mainly densely compacted, nutrient-poor city soil. 

 “Hawaiʻi has a wealth of native trees that aren’t found elsewhere in the United States,” Jolie described, “but we’re finding more and more native trees struggle with the soil in densely populated places like Honolulu.”

 To mitigate this, Smart Trees Pacific only plants around six types of urban trees – and interestingly enough, most of them are fruiting trees. “We plant a lot of lime trees” Jolie mentioned, in addition to Mock Orange and others.

 In order to give them a complete picture of our work, Wei and Jolie met with each of our departments and were given the opportunity to ask questions and dig deeper into topics they were curious about. They also toured the Casey Tree Farm, checked out the National Arboretum, accompanied us on a Community Tree Planting site visit, and had the chance to meet with other urban forestry players. 

 Ultimately, was their time with us fruitful? “We came here to learn since there’s only a handful of us at Smart Trees Pacific. Our goals were to see what’s possible and hone in on the areas we should focus on so we, and trees in Hawaiʻi, can grow. While it’s been overwhelming at times, it’s been so helpful to really be immersed in the world of D.C.’s urban forestry for this time. I’m excited about the future and what we have in store.”

 So are we Jolie, so are we. 

 Another thanks to the Alliance for Community Trees for offering this mutually beneficial community award!

Editor’s note: Curious about the spelling of Hawaiʻi? That little mark is called the ‘okina, and it’s actually an official consonant in the Hawaiian language. It represents what’s called a glottal stop. Not only does the ‘okina change the pronunciation of a word, but it can also change the meaning. In recent years, interest in preserving Hawaiian culture and language has emerged. Hawaiian was reinstated as the official language of the state in 1978 and the Hawaii Board on Geographic Names restoring ‘okina and kahako (a horizontal line that appears over a vowel to add stress and length to a vowel) where appropriate. As a result, maps and signage will reflect proper historical names going forward, continuing to restore the Hawaiian language to prominence.

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