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Q&A with Jake Simon, Head Arborist with Better Place Forests

Jake is one of the many people keeping our forests healthy and beautiful. We chatted with him recently to learn about his background, his job, and his favorite tree.   


Better Place Forests: Hi Jake! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. How about we start with you telling us a little bit about your background and how you knew you wanted a career in forestry?

Jake: Well I grew up in rural Indiana. Both my parents and I were really into backpacking, which led to lots of road trips out west to places like Rocky Mountain National Park and Glacier to hike. In 8th grade, I had the opportunity to job-shadow a park ranger at Glacier National Park and that was my first experience with any kind of career in forestry. That was probably when I really started thinking seriously about wanting to work in forests and take care of forests. 

I went to college in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University, which happens to have one of the best forestry programs in the world. A lot of my class time was spent in the woods writing forest management plans, writing harvest plans, and identifying every grass, flower and tree I came across – it was a really great experience.


It sounds like you have been in and around forests pretty much your whole life! So what does a day in the life of the Head Arborist at Better Place Forests like?

Every day is different, which is one thing I love about it, but I’d say that as Head Arborist my main job is to manage the health of all of our forests. We want to provide the best experience for our customers. There are best practices for each forest and each geographic region that we need to make sure we’re following. I’m always focused on forest health, fire risk reduction, and ensuring a safe and meaningful experience for customers. We want our customers to feel like the forest is theirs.


What are some examples of these “best practices” you just mentioned?

Every forest is different and plans vary depending on things like tree species, density and base layers. For example, in Point Arena we use selective thinning, desirable species release (ensuring that native species have the space and resources to thrive), and brush removal to return the forest to a fire resilient old-growth ecosystem.

In Flagstaff we help manage for overgrowth and focus on fire mitigation. What some people might not know is that low-level fires may occur in nature every 1-5 years and they are an essential part of a healthy forest. Of course, we want to protect against that. So we will go in and do regular thinning and pruning to mimic the natural effect that normal, low level fires would create. This means thinning out the canopy and returning nutrients to the soil. Our goal is to bring the forests back to its most natural state to maintain the health of the forest.


That’s fantastic. Sounds like a lot of work but I’m sure you’re not doing it alone…

That’s for sure. We have a really great team that I’m lucky enough to work with. Everyone plays an important role. There are team members responsible for maintaining forest health, others on the development side who are responsible for the design and experience of the forest, even a colleague who is a land wizard with GIS (Geographic Information System) maps. One of our newest guys is Hawthorne Dukepoo, who is locally in Flagstaff, directing work on the ground. We have a really strong team, which is good, because this would be impossible to do alone.


Besides the team, what is it about this job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

That’s a good question. For me, I really love the conservation aspect. It is really important to me to be able to tell my son when he’s older that his dad was part of something bigger – that I was helping the Earth.

I never really thought about it before this job, but I’m proud that we are able to provide people with an alternative end-of-life solution that gives them the power to make a difference. Typically, unless you're a millionaire, you don’t have an easy opportunity to conserve land. But through this, our customers are able to. Everyone can be stewards.


Ok, now for a really hard-hitting question: do you have a favorite tree?

There are a couple massive Ponderosa Pines in Flagstaff that are pretty incredible, but I really love the Aspens. Aspens are among the oldest and biggest organisms on the planet. A grove of Aspens all sprout from the same root system so when the leaves change on one tree, they all change. I also recently learned that Aspens are the only species in North America that can photosynthesize through their bark. That’s how they survive the winter! Yeah, I really have a thing for Aspens.


Amazing. Thank you Jake, it’s been great talking to you.



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