When I tell new acquaintances what I do for a living, they often ask me how I got into the field of urban forestry. The truth is - I gained an appreciation for trees and the environment at an early age. While growing up, I spent many hours in the woods, lakes and parks of central and northern Wisconsin. I hunted, fished, rode my bike, sat by a lake, and took part in many other outdoor activities. Doing so led me to appreciate the benefits that nature and trees bring to people - beauty, clean air, solitude, among others. As a kid I always had it in my head that I would focus my future career on the environment somehow.
I applied to only one school for undergrad the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point and its College of Natural Resources. When I first got to UWSP I became a wildlife management major, having pictured myself saving habitat for wildlife in some remote location. I soon switched to Urban Forestry however, as I thought it would offer me more of a chance to manage natural resources in urban areas where I thought I could have more of an impact. Hearing that the job prospects and potential income were better didn't hurt.
After graduating from UWSP I became an arborist for many of the same reasons I switched my major back years earlier. I have (mostly) remained in the field for the last 11 years. While I have held multiple jobs, my positions have always focused on conserving trees and other natural aspects of urban areas. More than one person has expressed jealousy that I have been able to follow my passion from childhood through my early 30s.
I often present the environmental benefits of trees to clients and audiences in terms of dollars saved by our urban forests, carbon sequestered, pollutants removed, etc. And while all of that is well and good, if the audience member doesn't have a personal connection to the nature they are hearing about I highly doubt they will take what I am saying to heart.
Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods is probably my favorite piece of literature that explains how important it is for people to experience nature while they are young. If I hadn't spent so much time in the outdoors as a kid, how could I possible appreciate the benefits that all things wild and free provide?
So let your kids play outside. Take them camping, fishing and hiking. We'll need many more urban foresters and related conservation professionals in the future.