Finding her path through the trees

by | Mar 16, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Jennifer Rall, Urban Forestry Specialist with the N.C. Forest Service, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!

One thing that is often overlooked or taken for granted in the agriculture industry is the variety of trees across our state and the benefits that they provide. Jennifer Rall, Urban Forest Specialist with the N.C. Forest Service, makes it her mission and purpose each day to educate the community on the importance of trees and how to properly care for them.

Jennifer has been immersed in the world of agriculture since she was a young girl helping out on her family’s farm. “I was raised on a small family farm in Wayne County where I helped my family grow corn, soybeans and squash as well as raise hogs,” she said, “and I remember loving agriculture even as a kid, especially driving the tractor around the farm.” Throughout her childhood years, this love of agriculture developed into a love for the outdoors and natural resources across our state, specifically trees.

After obtaining a degree in Natural Resources Management at N.C. State University, Jennifer started her career with the N.C. Forest Service as an office assistant. “I applied for this position because it was an easy way to get my foot in the door and obtain experience in my field of interest straight out of college,” she said. “Thankfully, my supervisors at the time also took me along with them in the field and allowed me to get my hands-on-experience in other areas of the field that helped prepare me for my role today.”

Prior to her current role, Jennifer also served as Program Assistant for the N.C. Forest Service, where she was encouraged to obtain her Certified Arborist credential. “The International Society of Arboriculture sets standards for how trees are to be cared for,” she said, “and this certification is obtained through training and work experience. It demonstrates that you have the knowledge and skills to properly care for trees. It also gives you the authority to tell others professionally how their trees should be cared for.” This certification has helped her in a lot of ways throughout her time with the N.C. Forest Service.

Today, Jennifer is an Urban Forest Specialist where she works with various municipalities and businesses across the state to help them develop their own forestry programs and care for the trees around them, including city trees and parks. She is also a leader of the Tree City USA program, which recognizes N.C. cities for their care of public trees. “Originally this program was for cities only, but it has recently expanded to recognize a variety of other areas in the state, including college campuses and even utility companies,” she said.

Jennifer looks back fondly on the times when she was in the field as part of an incident management team or the Urban Forest Strike team. “The Urban Forest Strike Team is responsible for evaluating trees after major storms, such as hurricanes, and letting the community know what needs to be done with the damaged ones,” she said. “Not every tree needs to be removed and disposed of, so where we could save trees we did so.” Her favorite mission took place in Virginia, where she worked with their state forest staff to inventory for the invasive species tree-of-heaven and Spotted Lanternfly. “It was a great experience not only to learn more about this pest and how it affects our industry, but also to network with other forestry professionals and learn from them,” Jennifer said.

After 18 years with the N.C. Forest Service, Jennifer’s favorite part of the job remains educating people on the importance of our state trees and how to properly care for them. “I travel to various schools, companies and other parts of the community to educate people on our forest industry,” she said. “Trees really are our most renewable resource and if we take care of them, they will take care of us.”

For this reason, March 18, which is North Carolina Arbor Day is an important holiday for Jennifer and the entire N.C. Forest Service team. The day is important because it is a time where many people celebrate and recognize the benefits of trees in our state. “Throughout the year, many people take trees for granted even though we are literally surrounded by them and the benefits that they provide,” she said, “but Arbor Day is a time where we can educate on a higher level and truly be heard by the surrounding community.” As Jennifer says, healthy trees make healthy lives, so be sure to do your part this Arbor Day and care for the trees in your area!

When she is not at work, Jennifer enjoys travelling to the North Carolina mountains with her husband and son. “We love to do anything outside, such as camping and fishing,” she said, “although, they are constantly getting annoyed with me because I am pointing out the trees around us. Truthfully, I never stop working. When you are this passionate about something, it is no longer an 8 to 5 job, but it is a lifestyle.”

Join us in thanking Jennifer for all of her hard work and be sure to follow along on the N.C. Forest Service social media pages to learn more about what they do!