She’s Heather Green, Oak Lawn’s Village Forester and the woman responsible for maintaining the village's urban forest. She also plays a vital role in helping surrounding towns acquire the proper tools to better maintain their own tree populations. A lover of the outdoors, Green enjoys working with the environment but she most values speaking and connecting with residents to educate them on proper tree handling. As a member of the Oak Lawn Green Team and the Illinois Arborist Association, Green takes her knowledge and passes it on to others in the hopes of creating a more eco-friendly environment for the future.
Oak Lawn Patch: What exactly is your job as the village forester?
Green: My primary job is to keep the urban forest as healthy as I can while maintaining a high quality of life with minimal risk to the residents. When I look at a tree, I do everything that I can to make sure it is healthy and as structurally sound as it can be. Once it attains a higher risk status, it may be removed so that we can keep the balance of a healthy urban forest with a minimal risk to the environment.
Oak Lawn Patch: You definitely have a unique occupation. How did you get involved in urban forestry?
Green: I was very interested in the environment in high school, but I was never sure what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a teacher, physicist, astronomer, astronaut, and botanist. I didn’t like the full gamut of any of those particular fields, but my job here allows me to do a little bit of all of those jobs.
Oak Lawn Patch: What does your typical day look like?
Green: Each day is so different. When I’m doing resident inspections I’ll go out and take a look at the tree and give the residents some information. So if the homeowner is there, that’s where the educating aspect of my job takes place. I also educate the crews and the summer help, and they then extend that outreach to the residents. I also do a lot of project management to make sure that work gets done in a timely and efficient manner.
Oak Lawn Patch: What do you do during the winter months when few trees have leaves?
Green: We are busy year round, period. The calls are less frequent but the project management is much more implemented. I plan for the next year and really do get a lot of work done in the winter. I don’t have to compete with street resurfacing or other spring and summer jobs so my crews get most of their jobs done in the winter too. And trees actually prefer to be trimmed in the winter because it causes less damage.
Oak Lawn Patch: You are very dedicated to helping make Oak Lawn a greener place. Can you explain what exactly is the Oak Lawn Green Team?
Green: The Green Team’s goal is to make a positive influence on the environment in Oak Lawn. We’re working with residents and the community to find sustainable opportunities for an eco-friendly future. We want to show residents that they don’t have to spend money to become more environmentally conscious.
Oak Lawn Patch: What five things can residents do right now to be more green?
Green: Learning about the correct disposal of items is an important issue. For example, plastic grocery bags should not be put in curbside recycling because their shape and chemical composition clogs up the recycling system. Residents can also participate in the village's ongoing separate collections to safely recycle old cell phones and batteries and inkjet cartridges or donate gently used books to the library rather than throw them away.
Oak Lawn Patch: You are also a member of the Illinois Arborist Association. What is the association’s goal and what is your role as a member?
Green: The Illinois Arborist Association is a non-profit association dedicated to educating its members in proper tree care and supporting research for trees. I have served on various boards for the IAA since 2002, but I am currently the International Society of Arboriculture liaison so I represent Illinois with respect to arboriculture.
Oak Lawn Patch: What is the most popular misconception when it comes to trees?
Green: People tend to think of a tree’s leaves like hair so they shear the ends like a haircut, but the tree doesn’t respond like hair. Tree leaves grow from the tips so if you cut them you cut the most important part. And the tree’s response is a mess. It’s not a good for the tree, not good for the environment, and not good for the paycheck.
Oak Lawn Patch: What is your favorite part about being an urban forester?
Green: When I talk to the residents and I explain misconceptions or misunderstandings about trees, and they actually get it. There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to trees and to clear that up makes me feel really good. And I love to connect with people and their trees. I love to hear stories about trees they’ve planted.
Oak Lawn Patch: What is the hardest part of your job?
Green: When I have to take down a tree that really means something to someone. I hate to take down a tree, period, but I really hate to take down a tree that is emotionally attached to someone.
Oak Lawn Patch: If you could be a tree, what type of tree would you be?
Green: A Chinkapin Oak because I love oak trees. It’s a native tree though there aren’t a lot of these trees in the area, they are pretty hearty and usually are around for 200 years or so. I tend to plant that one in my personal life a lot.
Oak Lawn Patch: When you’re not outdoors taking care of the environment, what do you do with your free time?
Green: I used to just work a lot but now I’m riding my bike and doing a 500-mile charity ride this fall in West Virginia. I also love to dance, anything from swing dancing to salsa.
For more information about Oak Lawn's forestry department and the Green Team, click here.