Charlotte names new city arborist

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Laurie Reid Dukes has been named Charlotte’s City Arborist – only the third city arborist in Charlotte’s history and the first female city arborist. Many of you may already know Laurie through her previous work as assistant city arborist and/or as a TreesCharlotte volunteer. She took over the job of city arborist in March from Tim Porter, who is now Charlotte’s Chief Urban Forester. We asked Laurie a few questions as she starts her new adventure.

Q: Give us a brief background on your career – where did you graduate from, degrees held, a quick summary of jobs over the years.

I graduated from Clemson University with a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Science degree in Entomology.  Following graduation, I worked for Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, S.C., as an environmental educator and the curator of the butterfly house for almost 3 years.  I was one of three environmental educators responsible for educating school and adult groups visiting the park about reptiles, amphibians, fossils, arthropods, flowers, butterfly ecology, and swamp and aquatic ecosystems.  I also created and maintained educational displays, maintained plants in the butterfly house, and cared for various animals (fish, turtles, birds, and various arthropods). 

I was then the entomologist and Forest Health Coordinator for the South Carolina Forestry Commission for almost 11 years.  Our work group conducted forest health surveys and provided insect and disease identification and management recommendations to individual landowners, arborists, and municipalities. 

I began with the City of Charlotte in 2014 as an Urban Forestry Specialist, where I was responsible for plan review and approval for new and up-fit land development projects within a geographical area of the City of Charlotte to ensure compliance with the Tree Ordinance; inspections for compliance with the Tree and Zoning Ordinances; and continuing compliance inspections with the Tree Ordinance.  I was promoted to Urban Forestry Supervisor in 2015. 

In 2016 I took the role of Assistant City Arborist, where I was responsible for administering the City’s Neighborhood Tree Planting Program, enforcing the Charlotte Tree Ordinance as it relates to right-of-way trees, co-managing the tree inventory, and managing urban forest health for street trees.

Q: What do you love about being an arborist in general? 

I love trees and talking about trees!  I am passionate about arboriculture and educating people on the benefits that trees provide.

Q: Being an arborist and being the city arborist are different jobs, I imagine. What are the primary responsibilities of being the city arborist?

The primary responsibilities include management and regulation of our urban forest (public trees) by ensuring the best practices of arboriculture and urban tree management are utilized; working with the Urban Forestry group to develop and interpret tree ordinance regulation; and community outreach and education. 

Q: What are some of your dreams and vision for the job? 

Education and communication between the City and residents of Charlotte is one of my primary focuses, as well as increasing while diversifying Charlotte’s tree canopy and ensuring we’re planting the right tree in the right place.        

Q: What’s your favorite tree?

My favorite tree is really hard to pin down and it definitely varies during the year!  Right now (mid-April) the Fringetrees are blooming and they are such a beautiful understory tree.  Bald Cypress have started putting on their feathery leaves; they are such a tough tree and can grow in really wet areas (I used to work in a swamp dominated by Cypress trees) or dry sites.

Deodar Cedar, which can be a massive tree, is so different with the form of its branches and needles, and the cones are beautiful. Redbuds, being one of the early blooming trees, always make me so happy as it signals we’re leaving winter. 

I love Tulip Poplars – they grow so straight – and their leaf shape and beautiful flowers are fantastic.  We have a great diversity of oaks in Charlotte.  Oaks are really important trees for wildlife and they support hundreds of species caterpillars; White Oak is my (right now) favorite oak tree.  It’s really too hard to choose just one!

Q: Tell us something surprising about yourself.

At my previous position with the South Carolina Forestry Commission, I used to perform aerial forest health surveys every summer in a Cessna 172 single propeller airplane from 1,200 feet in the air. While I was primarily a passenger, I did get to fly the plane a few times and I also learned how take off and land the plane!