Monday, September 20th, 2010
“My earliest childhood memories are of the outdoors in Connecticut. I remember my Dad carrying me in his backpack and my Mom pulling me on the back of her bike. As I got older, I didn’t have video games or anything like that, so my brother and I would explore in the woods with the other neighborhood kids. We did all kinds of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stuff, and stayed out until late in the evening. On a few occasions, our Mom had to call the police because she didn’t know where we were.
“Spending so much time outside made me feel a strong connection to nature. I also started to become aware of the way that humans were making a negative impact on the environment. I saw sewage overflows and litter in water bodies and the way that suburbanization was destroying forests. In college, I sought out opportunities to learn more about what was happening to the environment. I knew that I wanted to protect and improve it, but I didn’t really know how one could make a career out of that.
“After college, I stumbled upon an opportunity in urban ecology after doing a bunch of odd jobs. I worked for an organization that was planting trees and gardens in New Haven. I did that for a bit, but left to pursue teaching.I am from a long line of teachers and thought it might be my calling, too. After a year, I realized that I was better at working with my hands and shovels and went to Yale’s School of Forestry.
“When I finished my Master’s Degree, I got an opportunity with the National Resources Defense Council in D.C. At the time, Mayor Williams was leading a movement to restore the Anacostia River. Like most rivers, it suffers from significant pollution due to sewer overflows and storm water runoff. The Anacostia is also a slow and flat river, which means that it takes a long time for it to cycle out the pollutants. To add to the difficulty, in D.C., one third of the city’s sewers are giant pipes that combine sewage and rain water, which means that when it rains or you flush the toilet, that water goes into the same big pipe. The problem is that when it rains, even a fraction of an inch, these pipes can get backed up and overflow all around the city. NRDC and other local and national NGOs worked with the city to develop solutions to address these challenges. The city is only now in the beginning phases of addressing these solutions nine years later.
“During my time at NRDC, I worked closely with Casey Trees, an organization started with money from Mrs. Betty Brown Casey to restore, enhance, and protect the tree canopy in D.C. Once my fellowship at NRDC was over, they offered me a job to start a tree planting program here. At the time, Casey Trees was working exclusively on developing a city-wide street census of trees and pushing for the Tree Bill in the D.C. City Council.
“It was exciting to start a program that mapped out the trees in this city and worked with community members and volunteers to bring more trees to the District. One of the first places we planted was Barracks Row, and the trees really helped to turn that neighborhood around. Now, we plant 250-350 trees a season, and work with everyone from parks to schools to embassies to private homes to help people plant more trees in the District.
“We have developed more of a bottom-up approach over time and really want to empower communities to tell us where the trees should go. We help them decide on the right trees, whether they are looking for shade or some color in the fall, and tell them how to care for the tree. With the help of the D.C. Department of Environment, we also developed a rebate to get more trees onto private property. If you buy a tree and plant it, we will send you $50. The program allows the homeowner to decide what kind of tree is right for them.
“I look around this city and think about how great D.C. is because of all of the new trees planted. One way that we measure our success is looking at satellite imagery. It is nice to see that there is not an area of the city where we haven’t planted trees. It is also exciting to see that some of the trees I planted when I first got here in 2003 are now big enough to be visible by satellite.”