The University of New Hampshire has been graduating tree care professionals and foresters for almost a century, according to Ethan Belair, director of the Forest Technology program, which includes arboriculture and forestry. “UNH has had a forestry program since 1919,” he says. “That was back when forestry was king in New Hampshire. Since then, we’ve seen the entire industry change, and there’s a growing demand for skilled, confident tree care professionals.
“I’m in my first year as the faculty in charge of our arboriculture program, and I’m trying to rework our offerings to prepare students to work in the industry as it is today,” Belair continues. “Quite honestly, some of that has to do with logistics, to adapt our program to better serve what the industry needs. That includes updates to our curriculum as well as to our safety equipment and climbing systems.”
Currently, the UNH program has 15 students and includes an arboriculture course as well as forestry courses that have crossover applications to arboriculture, like insects and disease and timber harvesting, where students learn skills like how to run a chain saw and fell trees safely. “We want to be sure they’re getting the whole suite of skills since we don’t know which end of the spectrum they’ll end up on,” he notes.
With part of the equipment award, Belair plans to get new backpack sprayers for a lab in invasive-species control that he hopes to launch next year. “UNH has about 2,000 acres within a 20-minute drive of the main campus where we have the opportunity to do labs,” he says.
Also on Belair’s equipment list is PPE, including new chaps, hard hats, and belt-style first-aid kits for climbing. “I want to get students in the habit of carrying these every day,” he says. To round things out, he says he’s looking at getting a couple of mid-sized chain saws for felling, bucking, and sectioning trees, plus a battery-powered saw that will be more useful for climbing and arborist work.
Since his outdoor class activities are curtailed right now, Belair has come up with an ingenious plan to keep students engaged and outdoors as much as possible, given social distancing. “It’s basically a photo scavenger hunt,” he says. “I go out in the woods with my cell phone and record short videos, and say things like, ‘See this wound?’ or ‘See this branching pattern? What does this tell you about the health of this tree?’ Then they go out in the woods near their homes and take photos of similar things. These are students who want to be outside and active, so the more they can be outdoors, the better.”