By Kevin Hamman
The genesis for starting our business, the light bulb flashing in the brain moment, didn’t really happen until we began to think of ourselves as New Urban Forestry. Before the naming of the business, we were arborists and our job was to manage individual trees, and most often our goal was to mitigate risk. In fact, we were really just darn good tree climbers with a history of working in the woods as educators and forest service seasonal firefighters and trail builders. Tree climbing, for us, was the solution to solving the job problem. We were, (and may still be), idealists and we could figure out the business side of it later. Yes, we were “certified” arborists, and we could converse intelligently about your trees, recognize architectural flaws, discuss tree risk, and make recommendations to improve tree health and tree structure. But in the beginning, we still functioned as often as tree removal experts tackling dead and gnarly trees as we did as true arborists helping to care for and manage trees.
Fortunately, we decided to start our business in Athens. We had history in Athens and our families either lived here, or were close by. We figured if we wanted to live in Athens, we better figure out how to make a living. After all, we started our business in the fall of 2008, aka the “economy in the tank” year, and we didn’t have much to lose. It didn’t take us long to realize that people in the Athens area had all kinds of tree “problems” and also cared deeply for their trees. We heard from folks who wanted to know what was wrong with the beautiful and big old white oak that had been on the property since way back when and which had been a centerpiece for family photos for years. We talked to people that cared deeply for a tree they planted to commemorate a birth in the family. We talked with tree owner’s neighbors who were willing to pay us to work to preserve trees that were not even on their property. We talked to what seems to be thousands of people that wanted to figure out a way to keep that monster 10 foot diameter (turns out it’s really more like 4 foot diameter) water oak living as long as possible. And, yes, we removed, and still do remove, many large canopy trees to protect people and homes.
This led to a couple of problems: 1: when you pay to remove a tree, you get nothing in return but empty sky and an empty wallet and 2: what the heck are we going to do with this massive pile of wood “waste” we keep collecting?
Our bright idea was that we could do something with this wood “waste.” Turns out it makes lumber, mulch, and compost! Who knew? It also turns out that the primary recommendation that we arborists make to improve tree health is to improve soil health and soil structure and you know what improves soil health and soil structure: yep, mulch and compost. We also found that though the tree was no longer around to be enjoyed by its owners (or owner’s neighbor) that its wood in some new form, whether table, bench, or garden fence, could ameliorate some of the loss.
These days, though we are always tree focused, we design and build functional and beautiful landscapes, we remove invasive plants along the river corridors and in your yards, we make heaps of mulch and compost, and we make wood products from logs that came from your or your neighbor’s back yard. We are interested in erosion control, watershed management, and planting new trees, but when you think about it “new” urban forestry is really “old” urban forestry, but “old” urban forestry doesn’t quite have the same ring for a business. What we’re practicing now as arborists and urban foresters is nothing new, only new in name. What we are attempting to do now is bring back what we as people used to do and know well: we promote the cycle of trees to earth, earth to trees.
Kevin Hamman is an Administrative Executive, General Manager, and ISA Certified Arborist for New Urban Forestry, Inc. He supervises assets and field operations for arboriculture projects in Northeast Georgia. Kevin received his BA from The University of Georgia and from there went on to work for the U.S. Forest Service where he served as a wildland firefighter. He’s a current member of the ACC Tree Council.