For almost 30 years, Southern University and A&M College have been graduating top urban-forestry students, according to program director Kamran Abdollahi. He adds that it’s the pilot program in urban forestry for Louisiana and initially was launched with an investment made by the State of Louisiana and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The school’s Urban Forestry and Arboriculture program provide valuable, hands-on training for its students who are involved in urban-forest restoration, tree planting, tree pruning and even hurricane response and tree-risk assessment. And the program is growing, according to Abdollahi. “Currently we have 105 students, and we anticipate an additional 50 students through scholarships in the next five years. We’ve been fortunate in that the USDA has provided scholarship funds for many of our agriculture students.”

Getting additional equipment and supplies for these new students is one of the goals Abdollahi has for the Gear Up award. “We were working with our local Stihl distributor to put together a list of what we could get for the $5,000,” he says. “We had already scheduled our (Stihl) workshop as well as the delivery of the equipment, and of course, it all came to a screeching halt (with the coronavirus). We pretty much are getting chain saws and supporting equipment. Our students want the lighter, battery-operated chain saws – clean energy definitely is a focus for them.

“I’m sure getting the equipment this semester is out of the question,” he adds. “Hopefully, we’ll have it for the fall, or maybe even by mid-summer for our series of modules we call the Bayou Program. That would be a great opportunity to use the new equipment.”

Abdollahi says the college’s urban forestry program has benefited greatly from collaborations with companies like Asplundh, Davey Tree and Arbormasters, which provide everything from training “all the way to recruitment and placement” for students. “The City of Baton Rouge also has been really good in terms of getting our students involved in urban-forest management,” he adds. “They have our students doing tree-risk assessment, planting for specific sites, monitoring those plantings – and they’re also employing our students! Baton Rouge Parks & Rec has been another significant contributor to training our students.”