Karen Haskew (Urban Forester)


There’s no doubt, trees touch our lives in important and diverse ways, perhaps no more so than in urban environments where trees are critical to residents’ quality of life. For those of us who live in towns and cities, urban trees bring nature into our daily lives adding character and beauty to areas often dominated by buildings. 

“Trees supply oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide emitted by traffic and countless other sources. They provide shade, conserve water, reduce soil erosion and give urban wildlife a home. Trees increase property values, decrease energy use, reduce noise pollution, reduce storm water run-off, and provide a sense of peace and tranquility in an often-hectic urban environment,” explains
Karen Haskew the Urban Forester for the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Haskew is responsible for every one of the 20,000 public trees in the city, including those in parks, trees that line the streets and those used in landscapes around public buildings. And she visits each of those trees every five or six years to maintain an inventory and to determine its condition and needs, often quite different from those of trees found in the forest. 

“I really enjoy seeing trees that I helped plant 15 years ago become large trees and a big part of the community landscape. Planning for tree planting is a fun part of my job. I get to select the trees when we build new parks and organize volunteer tree planting crews to plant them and I  coordinate their care – the pruning, and protection from disease and insects. We also plant a lot of trees every year to replace those that die or are vandalized and one of my jobs is deciding when trees need to be cut down because they are no longer healthy or safe.”

Before beginning her 20-year career managing urban forests Haskew worked as a field forester. “I love the outdoors and decided to major in forestry at college. My first job was helping private  property owners manage their woodlands. Switching to urban forestry was a good opportunity and it’s been a perfect fit.”

Working with trees in any regard requires knowledge of the sciences, and Haskew’s business and computer skills are also critical to her job, “Especially knowledge of GIS mapping programs and data base management for all the record-keeping,” she says. “Urban foresters spend a lot of time talking with the different audiences, so public speaking, desktop publishing and other  communications skills are critical.”

One of the biggest challenges is obtaining the necessary funding for public trees. “Helping people to understand the value and community benefits of trees is a big piece of meeting that challenge as well as finding grants and project sponsors. And we’re always looking for creative solutions such as using volunteers and growing seedlings into community trees at the Forest Service Nursery.”

In 2006, a severe ice storm destroyed hundreds of thousands of trees all over the Inland Northwest.

“There were huge amounts of downed and damaged trees all over town but especially hard hit
was Tubbs Hill, a natural area park adjacent to downtown. To protect the health of that urban forest as well as the public’s safety we decided to use helicopter logging to remove as many of the damaged trees and debris as possible. 

It was challenging and exciting to facilitate the public input, prepare the job and watch the trees finally “fly” off the hill. And very satisfying to see Tubbs Hill restored to a more healthy condition.”

Urban and city foresters are a collegial bunch, happy to share ideas and information and help one another and those interested in their profession. Becoming a volunteer tree planter or helping with other public tree tasks in your town is an easy way to discover if you like the field. Some cities,  like Coeur d’Alene, even have positions on their Urban Forestry Committees for students.

Want to know more?

º City of Coeur d’Alene Urban Forestry
º International Society of Arborculture
º American Forests
º US Forest Service Urban Forestry
º Community Canopy
º Effects of Urban Forests and Their Management on Human Health and Environmental Quality
º Tree Link