San Antonio, like many cities, is suffering from a shortage of well-trained people to take care of its trees. The problem is especially critical, given that the city desperately needs to preserve the precious tree canopy it has. In 2018, San Antonio learned that its tree canopy had shrunk dramatically over the previous 15 years, from covering 38 percent of the city’s land to just 23 percent. The decline in tree canopy, identified through spatial analysis, corresponded with increased development in the city and a serious 2017 tornado. It also meant a significant loss of the economic, health, and wellness benefits trees provide, prompting city officials to prioritize caring for the city’s trees and building a qualified, well-trained urban forestry workforce to continue that work.
American Forests, Microsoft, the City of San Antonio, Alamo Forest Partnership, and San Antonio Arborist Association have joined forces to try to tackle the shortage, leading to the creation of San Antonio Career Pathways. The pilot program, which will provide industry-focused tree care education and safety training, fills a major gap in urban forestry workforce training in San Antonio. Industry groups have shared that budgets for safety training have been slashed, leaving tree care companies with limited capacity to safely onboard and train their workers. The industry also faces a high rate of turnover. Tree trimming, pruning, and climbing are dangerous jobs, and according to the San Antonio Arborist Association, untrained workers have been seriously injured, and in rare cases have died due to not using the proper safety techniques. The city also has experienced a large prevalence of oak wilt, a fungus that kills through inhibiting water-conducting systems in oak trees. And as of now, there is limited public capacity to care for trees that aren’t on public parks and campuses, such as libraries.
To address local needs, San Antonio Career Pathways will train tree care workers through a three-part workshop and facilitate a community event where area residents can learn about the importance of tree maintenance and connect with trained professionals who could help them take care of long-term maintenance needs.
The key goals of the project are:
- Develop a tree education and safety training course that equips participants for the International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist exam and addresses community needs
- Ensure the tree education and safety course is accessible to those new to the field or those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend
- Facilitate public tree education and stewardship informed by industry best practices
Thanks to Microsoft’s support of this innovative program, San Antonio residents who need jobs most will have an opportunity to care for the city’s green infrastructure and ensure that all residents will benefit from trees.