Western UCF Committee Focuses on Workforce Development

Photo Credit: Grace Mirzeler

Workforce development is a key area of focus across state forestry agencies. In August 2023, the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition’s Western Urban & Community Forestry Committee (WUCF) hosted an informational session to highlight resources and innovative approaches to address this important topic.

Featured speakers included Walter Passmore, State Urban Forester with CAL FIRE, and Tara Costanzo, Early Talent Specialist with the Davey Tree Expert Company.

Walter Passmore introduced the session and highlighted CAL FIRE’s use of state funding to cover Urban Forestry Education and Workforce Development grants. 

In FY 2021-2022, CAL FIRE awarded $29.9 million of state general funds to 40 different grant awards. 13 workforce development grants were awarded in the amount of $12,434,035 to train, educate, mentor, and assist with career counseling and job placement for more than 1,000 people. 

Objectives for the CAL FIRE workforce development grants included educating, training, and employing people in urban forestry or a closely related profession and equipping and developing local people to improve their forests and associated ecosystems. Tree planting was a component in 12 of the 13 grants and will result in the planting of 4,551 trees.

A sampling of the funded projects include: 

  • Planting Justice - provides formerly incarcerated individuals an opportunity to learn how to operate a commercial nursery. 
  • Southern California Mountains Foundation - trains individuals from historically underserved populations in the industry to acquire the skills needed to enter into the utility vegetation management profession - a high-paying profession in the state of California. The grant provided training and job placement assistance for 50 individuals. 
  • San Francisco Public Works - created a city-run tree nursery on state-owned public property in between two highway segments in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The project site will be turned into a workforce training center, city-run tree nursery, and park for disadvantaged communities. 
  • Amigos de los Rios - provides training to school staff, students, and volunteers to take care of trees on school campuses. 
  • Canopy - building on existing education programs with schools and teen urban forester programs to add new training aspects, such as internships and scholarships for students entering the industry, professional development for landscape professionals, and expansion of a forestry school program. 
  • Tree San Diego and Urban Corps of San Diego - partnered together to train individuals and assist with job placement in cooperation with Butte College. This assistance helped those who entered the urban forestry profession in labor jobs take that next step to become entry-level professionals. 

In addition to grants, CAL FIRE has several complimentary initiatives to support workforce development. One initiative includes asking grantees to join a workforce development network, which allows like-minded organizations to connect and learn from one another. 

CAL FIRE, in cooperation with California Climate Fellows, is looking to host an urban forestry camp for the next generation in the summer of 2024. 

The second part of the WUCF learning session included a presentation by Tara Costanzo with Davey Tree Experts. Tara’s role as an Early Talent Specialist includes building relationships with workforce development programs. 

A few of the highlighted programs include: 

  • CrossPurpose - faith-based workforce development program aimed at supporting individuals to pursue meaningful careers.
  • CommunityWorks - nonprofit providing wraparound services to community members working toward re-entering the workforce, including career preparation, personal coaching, job placement, and other services. An arborist training program is currently being developed that would provide similar training to a pre-apprenticeship or the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT) program.
  • County workforce departments, such as Broomfield County’s Career Explorers program, which engages with junior and high school-aged students for eight weeks during summer to visit various career opportunities. 
  • The Park People’s Tree Force Pre-Apprenticeship Program - partners with Second Chance to provide an eight-week program and best practices on arboriculture.

To learn more about the programs mentioned above, contact Walter Passmore or Tara Costanzo

To learn more about the Western Urban & Community Forestry Committee, visit