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PlanIT Geo

PlanIT Geo
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  1. PlanIT Geo
    How the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop provides invaluable experience

    Tree climbing is a unique profession in many ways.
    One of the most surprising aspects of the job is the ambiguous career and training path. Most climbers stumble into this field with no intention of pursuing (and potentially no knowledge of) tree climbing as a profession.
    Unlike other skilled labor (e.g., carpentry, welding, plumbing), virtually no formal career training exists for tree climbing, despite daily dangerous tasks and specific skills required for the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual fatality rate for full-time tree workers is 110 per 100,000. The annual injury rate is even more discouraging: 2,390 per 100,000 tree workers.
    These rates far surpass the fatality and injury rates of other industries. The most striking comparison is to first responders, a notoriously dangerous occupation. On average, being a tree climber is seven times more fatal. Tree climbing is an inherently dangerous profession, and a systemic lack of training exacerbates the risk.
    As you’re reading this, you may notice yourself imagining these climbers as men. Nobody can blame you. The industry is heavily male-dominated. Women make up less than 5% of tree workers in the United States. When looking at only tree climbers (excludes ground workers), the percentage shrinks to less than 3%.
    Seeing these statistics and the lack of industry training, Bear LeVangie and Melissa LeVangie-Ingersoll recognized a need for better instruction and a more welcoming environment for women in the field. In 2009, they co-founded the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop (WTCW). It began as a one-day training, but over the years has evolved into a two-and-a-half-day comprehensive tree-climbing retreat for women in our industry. Bear, Melissa, and their team of instructors now hold these workshops several times a year across the country.
    The workshop places a heavy emphasis on safety. The first topic is always personal protective equipment (PPE), because PPE that fits properly is more likely to be worn throughout the whole workday, reducing risk of injury. Instead of glossing over the required equipment, the instructors take the time to explain why each item is necessary, how to identify approved safety gear, and how to don it properly.
    Additionally, participants have the opportunity to try out various styles of gear, find their favorites, and fine-tune their setup. A full kit includes head and eye protection, a harness, rope, and various climbing systems. This alone is one of the most valuable portions of the workshop. It is very rare for a climber to try on multiple harnesses and helmets AND climb in them before making a purchase. Knowing what will fit can save climbers a considerable amount of money as a full tree climbing kit can range from $600 to $1500.
    After matching attendees with the right climbing gear, the tree climbing instruction begins! The instructing team approaches the curriculum methodically, first focusing on the moving rope system, teaching the closed climbing system, followed by the open system, and building from there. In some cases, it is appropriate to move on to teaching stationary rope climbing (a more advanced technique) and its difference to the moving rope system. In other situations, participants may prefer to spend their time perfecting their skills on the moving rope systems or learning throwline (the technique of setting a line into a tree). Bear, Melissa, and their lead instructor Rebecca Seibel have a remarkable ability to understand what each unique cohort of learners requires and how to adjust the agenda to meet their needs. They are supported by an incredible team of assistant instructors, ensuring the instructing team is large enough to give each participant attention and feedback so that everybody leaves with a strong foundation in tree-climbing and the confidence to apply their new skills.
    I was lucky enough to attend WTCW in the infant stages of my climbing career when I was just far enough along to accept that battling my throwline would be a regular morning ritual. Being a part of this workshop was invaluable to me as a climber. I learned proper climbing skills before I had time to create a habit of bad ones. I began to understand different types of ropes and harnesses and when they are appropriate. Most importantly, however, I felt seen. The workshop acknowledges that being a woman in the field of arboriculture can be an isolating experience. WTCW aims to counteract this by empowering women in their skills, building an ever-growing network of women in the field, and providing a strong reminder that we not only belong in this field, we have tremendous value to offer it.
    Paradoxically, women, who have been underserved and underrepresented in the field of arboriculture for so long, now have access to one of the best tree climbing workshops available in the United States. Thanks to Bear and Melissa, an increasing number of confident, knowledgeable, and skilled women are entering the field as climbers! If you’re interested in learning to climb trees, check out WTCW and their upcoming workshops!
    This year, PlanIT Geo sponsored the Texas Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop in March, where the author participated as an assistant instructor.
  2. PlanIT Geo
    A Companion Blog to the Internet of Nature Podcast Season 5, Episode 4
    September 5, 2023 |  Alec Sabatini

    If you can’t stand the heat, you’re not alone.
    Climate change and the urban heat island effect are sending city thermometers soaring, particularly in low-income and nonwhite neighborhoods. Many recognize urban trees are a key defense against heat, but getting the space and resources to plant and maintain greenspace takes substantial political and financial will, especially when competing against priorities like development or transportation.
    Community-led heat mapping is helping to tip those scales by activating community members with data that backs up their lived experiences. To talk about these efforts and the intersection of heat and greenspace, Dr. Nadina Galle hosted Vivek Shandas, Professor of Climate Adaptation at Portland State University on Episode 5 of her podcast.
    Community-Led Heat Mapping
    Most cities have less than a dozen active temperature and air quality sensors. Tens of square kilometers and thousands of people have to rely on a sensor or two to learn about their air. For a culture so reliant on analytics, American cities rarely have enough information to make evidence-based decisions.
    How do we change that? In 2018, the climate firm CAPA Strategies, of which Professor Shandas is a senior advisor, created the Heat Watch program to start bridging that information gap. Here’s how it works:
    After a community reaches out, CAPA Strategies provides training and materials to local champions for context on the importance of heat mapping On a designated hot day, CAPA Strategies provides low-cost, research-grade sensors to community volunteers who attach them to their cars, bikes, or backpacks Volunteers follow pre-mapped transects through their city, collecting temperature and humidity data along the way The routes are driven/biked/walked once in the morning, afternoon, and evening In one fell swoop, volunteers collect hundreds of thousands of geo-located data points. The end product is a high-resolution data set of air temperature and humidity, and a report by CAPA Strategies with a detailed analysis of the distribution of heat throughout the community.
    This hyper-local data helps city staff and community members see their neighborhoods differently. With a clear picture of how heat is concentrated in certain areas, the question then becomes, what can they DO about it? How can they redesign infrastructure to make greenspace more present in their lives? Where can more space be made for trees?
    “It has been an overwhelmingly compelling experience for me to see how little bits of granular data and a systematic process can get folks really charged and activated to bring more greenspace into cities,” said Vivek. These campaigns provide scientific backing to people’s lived experiences. It’s what has made the Heat Watch campaigns so powerful. It’s not an outside organization making maps for residents. The citizens living in these heat islands get to create their own evidence base and then use that to advocate for change.
    Heat Mapping Impacts
    The data and reports from Heat Watch campaigns have informed city sustainability plans, public health practices, urban forestry efforts, research projects, and other engagement activities. As an example, Vivek shared the story of a heat mapping campaign in Yonkers, New York.
    CAPA Strategies provided high school volunteers with FLIR thermal cameras that attached to their phones and tasked students with taking pictures of the hottest and coolest places they could find. It became clear some neighborhoods had less shade, fewer trees, and much higher temperatures than others.
    With photos and data in hand, volunteers demonstrated the inequitable shade and heat across their neighborhoods to the city council. They also showed how this imbalance had grown out of historic redlining practices. In the face of passionate advocacy and empirical reports, the city council eventually agreed to commit tens of millions towards planning and implementation of additional greenspace in hotter neighborhoods.
    This is one story in a growing trend. Urban heat is becoming one of the most effective catalysts for urban forestry initiatives. An uncomfortably hot neighborhood is visceral, and so is the relief offered by greenspace. Connecting the real experience of the people with data is a potent combination for change.
    Thanks for plugging into the Internet of Nature today. You can find links to all of the episodes and blogs from Season 5 here.
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