There I was in full ceremonial robes sitting on a stage at the University of British Columbia (UBC) looking on as each of the 18 graduates of Canada’s first-ever graduating class of the Bachelor of Urban Forestry (B.U.F.) eagerly and nervously passed in front of me to pick up their degree… and the only thing I kept thinking was, “If only Erik Jorgensen could have been here to witness this. It would have made him so proud.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dr. Erik Jorgensen, he was the Canadian who coined the term “urban forestry” (viewed by many as an oxymoron at the time).  After arriving from Denmark as a forest pathologist for the federal government, he joined the University of Toronto in 1959 and began to study and combat Dutch Elm Disease (DED), which was ravaging the landscapes of eastern North America. He was supposed to lead a national urban forestry program in Ottawa, but the government and university’s priorities changed, so he finished his career at the University of Guelph.

As his daughters later told me, Erik often felt frustrated and unappreciated. Being a visionary, he was at times rebuked and ignored by the forestry establishment who (he felt) trivialized his work or felt that it did not deserve the attention (or funding) that timber-oriented areas of forestry received. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s he often spoke of the need for undergraduate and graduate training in urban forestry. He would have never imagined the creation of this Bachelor of Urban Forestry program – it would have been his dream.

As the urban forestry world continued to boom in the 1990s, the need for urban foresters dramatically increased resulting in people (almost all men) working (largely for municipalities) with very little undergraduate training in the subject. I, myself, worked summer jobs with Ottawa’s National Capital Commission injecting elms against DED and only took a one-semester course in “Urban Forestry” at U of T in my fourth year of forestry. In fact, almost all the professionals working as “urban foresters” for municipalities received undergraduate training in either “classic” forestry (i.e. forest harvesting, wood science, road layout, etc., which are all necessary skills in the industrial forestry world) or maybe biology, but little in urban forestry, whose emphasis then was much more on single tree maintenance (i.e. arboriculture), urban planning and recreation management. Until now…

On May 31, 2018, a beautiful Vancouver day, I actively presented to the first 18 graduates (with more than 60% being women!) of Canada’s first Bachelor of Urban Forestry (B.U.F.) at UBC. These young people exemplified the very best of this country, originating from Vancouver and Burnaby, BC, Gimli, MB, and Toronto and London, ON. They even hailed from as far as the USA, China, France and Kenya. It was a remarkable day and I was proud to witness Erik Jorgensen’s dream finally come true. Please read my address below.  

Graduating Class Address, Michael Rosen

Bachelor of Urban Forestry Graduate Reception, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, May 31, 2018

Hello again everyone, just to introduce myself for those who may have missed it earlier, I am Mike Rosen and I am the President of Tree Canada.

I would like to congratulate you all on your incredible achievement of graduating from Canada’s first-ever Bachelor of Urban Forestry program here at the University of British Columbia.

Not to be overly dramatic, but this graduation is an extremely historic event. The story began when Dr. Erik Jorgensen, a forest pathologist from Denmark founded the Shade Tree Laboratory at the University of Toronto in 1959 and coined the term “urban forestry”. You have no idea what your graduation would have meant to him.

The story gets kind of personal: when I was a forestry student, I took the only fourth year course in urban forestry offered by U of T, worked my summers for the National Capital Commission, and injected some of the same elms against Dutch Elm Disease, planted by Dr. Jorgensen.

Although my forestry career took its turns, I did become a Management Forester in a very populated region of southern Ontario being quickly developed in the 1980s. I came back to the urban forestry community when I joined Tree Canada in 2002, where I had a chance to work on a national level.

Tree Canada’s motto is “Growing better places to live” and I know that each of you will contribute to this many times over throughout your careers. Every year, thousands of new research papers are published and findings are revised, but one finding in the research literature that has withstood the test of time is that trees are good for us on pretty much every level. They’re good for our environment, they’re good for our health, they’re good for our mental well-being and they’re good for our society.

It was only eight short years ago that I wrote the-then-new Dean of UBC, John Innes, urging him to take the brave step in establishing the first urban forestry program in Canada. Today, your graduation from the first Bachelor of Urban Forestry course is a reality. Dean Innes and Professor Sheppard, thank you for your vision and your courage in establishing this program.

And to you, the graduates, thank you as well for your courage in signing up and graduating from this program, sight unseen and with no track record to go from. Thank you for having me here today to congratulate you on this very special day. You have an amazing future ahead of you!