Student explores urban forestry at internships in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C.

Kelly Jedrzejewski
August 07, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jess Sourbeer has found her niche in forestry through internships at both Penn State Extension and Architect of the Capitol, the federal agency in charge of maintaining Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The senior forest ecosystem management student in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences said these two internships have shaped her dreams of working in urban forestry.

A taste of urban forestry

Last summer, Sourbeer worked at the Penn State Extension office in her hometown of Pittsburgh as an intern doing a preliminary forest inventory of the trees along trails in North Park, a county park with 2,000 acres of forested land outside of the city. Sourbeer and two other interns focused on inventorying different kinds of trees to complete their own projects. 

“The work we did gave the park a base map and more detailed information about its trees,” she said. “Each point on the online map is a tree, so it will be easier to do any management that needs to be done in the future.”

Because the park is used by hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders, trail maintenance and safety are high priorities. Sourbeer focused her project on hazard trees, which are dead or dying trees that could fall onto the trail and possibly harm someone. The other interns looked at red pine regeneration and invasive species. After mapping the trees, the interns presented their findings to the director of the Allegheny County Parks Department and to Penn State Extension personnel.

After getting a taste of urban forestry, Sourbeer is continuing to pursue her interests this summer with an internship at Architect of the Capitol. The federal agency maintains the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the U.S. Senate office buildings, the U.S. House of Representatives office buildings, the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Botanic Garden, and the U.S. Capitol Grounds.

“I wear a lot of different hats,” she said, “but the biggest project is preparing for the next level of arboretum certification at the Capitol Grounds.”

There are four levels of certification for accredited arboreta, and the U.S. Capitol Grounds were listed as a level two arboretum in 2017 on the Morton Register of Arboreta, a comprehensive database of arboreta and public gardens that have a substantial focus on woody plants for the benefit of the public, science and conservation.

A lot of preparation goes into reaching the next level of certification, Sourbeer said. She is helping place identifying plaques on all the trees on the 270-acre tract of land, listing their family, genus and species. Some of the plaques need to be added to trees, while others need to be replaced with memorial tree designations. Sourbeer explained that memorial trees are selected to serve as living memorials to something or someone and need to be marked with informational plaques.

'These trees have incredible stories'

Sourbeer also is minoring in geographic information science (GIS), and another significant part of her internship is creating a geographic information system database of the trees on the U.S. Capitol Grounds. Such a database is aimed at capturing, analyzing and managing geographic data. It can be used to aid and achieve a variety of management objectives through the creation of maps, statistical data collection and data analysis.

One of the highlights of her internship included working with Washington's famous Japanese cherry trees. Many of the original gift trees are beginning to die, so the staff at the Architect of the Capitol are working with the U.S. Botanic Gardens to take cuttings of the original trees, plant them, and care for them until the new trees are large enough to replace some of the older trees.

“When these young trees are planted back on the grounds again, you have healthy young trees with the same genetics as the older ones,” Sourbeer said.

Cataloging plants is another major part of her internship. Sourbeer said that the U.S. Botanic Gardens have made many interesting hybrids and cultivars out of tress on the U.S. Capitol Grounds and other plants that are specific to Washington.

In order to make these cultivars viable and differentiate them, the plants must be cataloged in a herbarium, which is a large plant library. Sourbeer and her fellow interns are working in the herbarium in the basement of the National Arboretum with clippings from the trees on the Capitol Grounds.

Sourbeer’s final task as an intern is submitting about seven trees to the National Register of Champion Trees. This campaign, launched by the Washington-based nonprofit American Forests in the 1940s, seeks to locate and preserve the largest living specimens of trees from across the country.

Once the trees are located, they must be measured and submitted to the register. Sourbeer will be looking into the history of the trees she is submitting.

“These trees have really incredible stories,” she said.

Sourbeer's internship experiences have solidified her desire to pursue a career in urban forestry.

“I want to have a career in urban forestry and GIS because I love seeing how my work can impact the community,” she said. “Typical forestry work is incredibly important, but with urban and community forestry, your work affects more people on a day-to-day basis. You get to see the happiness on people’s faces when they come into a park, and there’s nothing better.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 19, 2019