Volunteering for forest health: a public-private partnership in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
The Forest Health Ambassador Program, a joint public-private initiative in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, recruits volunteers from the community to assess municipal street trees for health issues and signs of invasive insects. In partnership with municipal employees, staff from BioForest, a private consultant, trains volunteers to inspect trees for a suite of structural and foliar conditions, as well as for signs and symptoms of infestation by emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, and Asian longhorned beetle. Since 2014, 4,871 street trees have been assessed by a growing base of volunteers. The program effectively increases the number of participants involved in the early detection of invasive pests, beyond what government resources typically allow. Thus, the program entails a low-cost investment that provides multiple ancillary benefits and channels community efforts into a cohesive product. The results provide data with direct implications for municipal forestry operations and help identify trends in urban forest health over time. For example, detections of relatively high numbers of gypsy moth egg masses were reported by volunteers, allowing the municipality to take remedial action and mitigate damage. A variety of media are used to advertise the program, including community newspapers and social media, as well as communications in local schools and at community events. The program is well-suited to high school students, who are able to complete curriculum-mandated volunteer hours through the program, while simultaneously gaining environmental knowledge. The program allows for the proliferation of awareness and education pertaining to municipal urban forest issues, particularly those related to invasive species and urban tree health.