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Citizen Forestry in Review: 2013

What are you waiting for? Across the nation cities have developed robust education opportunities for citizen foresters, tree-keepers, and tree-tenders. While the programs have different names, they all have a similar purpose: to develop an understanding of the importance of trees and to provide education in trees and tree care. These programs have led a revolution in urban forestry; an increase in citizen engagement and volunteer participation in urban forestry issues.

Acknowledging this trend, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks launched the Grand Rapids’ Citizen Forester Program last year. Our program is designed to provide a basic set of skills and comfort with tree care and understanding common tree issues. In turn, our Citizen Foresters have played a variety of important roles within our community. Overall though, we believe that the program has helped to raise awareness of trees and the level of care that they receive throughout our City.

Grand Rapids now has 15 completely trained Citizen Foresters. Dozens more are part way through the process. But is the program successful? Are people leaving with more knowledge and a greater understanding of trees? Why do people participate? How do we gain more participants?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve set out to answer some of these questions. Fifty-six of our program participants received a survey designed to measure a variety of indicators for program success- 20 responded. We have also hosted a focus group to help frame future program development and determine growing opportunities. Here’s some of our findings:

 

  • 85% of participants signed up to improve their own understanding of trees and tree care.
  • “To lead work within their own community” is not a strong motivation for becoming a Citizen Forester.
  • Participants considered our classes extremely useful, but we could stand to improve Tree Identification and Tree Advocacy.
  • 84% felt the training prepared them for volunteer duties and leadership.
  • 89% felt the training prepared them to work with their neighbors or community.
  • 78% feel more comfortable or knowledgeable following their training or participation in the program.
  • 90% feel that FGRP staff are knowledgeable, professional, and accessible.
  • 50% have completed or plant to start a tree-related project within their own community.
  • 64% of participants volunteered at least 2 more times with FGRP during 2013 in addition to those required for training.
  • 74% of participants volunteered at non-FGRP events in 2013 where they found their training was useful.
  • We need to provide on-going and new training opportunities like pests and diseases, fruit trees, etc.
  • We need to develop more robust tools or guides for those that want to develop projects in their community.
  • We need to continue to expand outreach and opportunities for a diverse array of participants.

 

While we can largely say that the program is a success, there’s growing opportunities for us to meet the demand of our participants. Over the next year, expect us to offer additional classes for a variety of interests that you have expressed. We will also continue to work on developing a greater awareness of the program and improving opportunities for diverse participation. If you have thoughts on what we can do to make our program the best in the US, let us know.

Otherwise, I have to ask… why aren’t you a Citizen Forester yet? Upcoming training opportunities.

 

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