James Biddle (continued)

The activity fed into the UVM’s participation in the Tree Campus program operated by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Officially recognized as a "Tree Campus" since 2013, UVM has committed to a five-part plan for forest management on campus which includes student service-learning projects.

“It really dovetailed with my UVM job with grounds department,” Biddle said. “ I worked as the campus tree coordinator where I made sure we were keeping up with the Arbor Day Foundation requirements.”

His primary job as urban forester in the District of Columbia’s 7th and 8th wards is planting trees in city owned properties and streets. Biddle explains a denser tree canopy holds many benefits including absorbing pollutants carried in stormwater, reducing city temperatures, increasing property values and providing habitat for wildlife.

He’s gratified that his profession is increasingly being supported by municipal government. In response to a public outcry over declining tree cover in the early 2000s, the District of Columbia established a multimillion dollar annual budget to plant and maintain more trees.

“This is not a one-off,” said Biddle, who sees great opportunities for specialists in Urban Forestry. “There is $2.5 billion in the infrastructure bill (signed by President Joe Biden on Monday, November 15) for urban tree programs. It’s the largest single investment in American urban forestry.”

Biddle’s job is especially challenging in Wards 7 and 8 -a historically underserved section of the city. Part of his role is convincing residents that trees—often a scarce commodity in underprivileged neighborhoods—have great societal and environmental benefits. “You can understand why people having difficulty paying rent or putting food on the table don’t place a high premium on tree cover,” he explains. “Part of my work is getting them to come around to the importance of trees and green spaces.”

Biddle and his fellow D.C. urban foresters are planting 8,500 trees per year in the city. Tree canopy studies (some conducted by UVM’s Spatial Analysis Lab) show that tree cover is still slightly declining, due to private development. But he takes satisfaction in the photo evidence that the denuded right-of-way corridors where his team planted are showing a vibrant green these days.

He experienced the same feeling a few weeks ago when he visited UVM for the first time in several years. He was struck by the rapid growth of the seedlings he helped plant years ago on Redstone camps.

“In this profession you feel like you are doing something for the world, long-term” he said.