Cary, NC — Growing up in the small town of Browns Summit, NC, Katie Rose Levin’s life was quite literally rooted in nature. In fact, she says there were more trees around than people.
Playing in the woods with her pets and siblings and developing a love for trees became much more than a fond memory. It proved to be a catalyst for her education and career path.
Becoming Cary’s First
Levin earned two Master’s Degrees, one in Forestry and the other in Environmental Management before becoming Duke University’s first Natural Resources Manager.
Throughout her career, she has started up her own company, gotten environmental consulting experience, helped to create an environmental justice nonprofit called Trees Durham and traveled through South America to learn from other cultures on how they approached using the environment to bring about solutions for things like housing, food and medicine.
After 15 years of forestry and environmental management experience behind her, Levin has been named Cary’s first Urban Forestry Manager. She and her husband Don Addu, who also works in the environmental sector, now live in Durham with their funny and mischievous beagle named Melvin.
What’s an Urban Forestry Manager?
As Urban Forestry Manager, Levin’s job description encompasses quite a lot.
Using a data-driven approach, Levin is responsible for developing plans, policies and strategies to ensure the long-term flourishing of Cary’s urban canopy. A large-picture goal of her work is to foster a high quality of life in Cary by using Cary’s trees and natural resources as tools.
Levin said, “It’s also about making sure we are resilient in the face of climate change and other types of environmental pressures that we are going to face as a society in the future.”
For Cary specifically, an Urban Forestry Manager is important since the town is about 80% developed, more than most neighboring Triangle municipalities. This poses the challenge of thinking about what redevelopment will look like and how Cary can integrate trees in the process.
The Power of Trees
In combining technology and the environment, it’s remarkable to see the many ways trees can help many of the challenges that Cary faces. To see these solutions though, Levin looks at trees themselves as technology and as a tool.
“Trees are tools for our health and our prosperity,” said Levin. “They are giant air filters that pull pollution out of the air while cooling and cleaning it.
From a handful of studies and the works of Kathleen Wolf at the University of Washington, Levin shared the following on trees:
- Places with lots of trees create areas that are 10 degrees cooler. So if trees around a person’s home were properly planted, they could pay about half as much on air conditioning bills in the summer.
- People who are not around trees have higher instances of diabetes, stroke, asthma and heart attacks
- If you have trees that are well maintained in your neighborhood, your house is worth about 20% more on average
- If you have well-managed trees in your parking lots and shopping centers, people will pay more for what you’re selling and return more often
- On average, people who do not live around trees miss 4 more days of work or school per year because of the health impacts
Being a very data-based decision maker, Levin said, “It’s really about coming up with how we can use these studies and facts to promote specific types of wellness in our community.”
As an example, Levin said when looking at where to have a tree-planting, she would look into schools because kids who go to schools that are surrounded by trees on the campus (or within about 600 feet) have more confidence, get higher test scores and experience less bullying, less ADHD, and less anxiety.
First Tasks & Future Goals for Cary Forestry
Starting her new role on January 4, 2021, Levin was impressed by the work that has already been such as designing an extensive greenway system and finding creative ways to work with developers on tree preservation and plantings.
“One thing that I’ve always liked about Cary is that they’ve always been looking forward to the next thing that can make Cary even more clean, safe and beautiful,” said Levin.
So far, Levin has put together four strategically placed tree plantings and started up a new initiative called My Tree, Our Tree that allows Cary residents to get a free native tree to plant in their own yards to help grow the canopy of Cary.
Looking ahead, Levin says it’s all about “creating a resilient, beautiful and safe community through trees, nature and technology.” Without giving any specific details, Levin also says there are some “spectacular and mind-blowing” initiatives in Cary’s future thanks to the special projects team and the Town Manager’s office that’s made trees and sustainable management a priority.
Keep Up-to-Date with Cary Forestry
Cary has a great population of citizens who are well-educated and active in environmental initiatives such as the Cary Tree Archive or the Sunrise Movement chapter. To see regular updates on forestry management and environmental efforts in Cary, here are a few resources:
Story and photos by Ashley Kairis.
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