In a Time of Lockdown, the YUFL Program Held the Key to Opportunities

As a recent forest conservation graduate, I was looking for new ways to get involved in the urban forest. Luckily, I found the Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) program just in time to meet the application deadline! Let me tell you a bit about my experience.

Last summer, I’d just graduated from university during the height of the global pandemic. I’d been studying forest conservation and was eager to get out into the field! Before I could process all that was happening around me, job opportunities, along with travel plans, had vanished right before my eyes. Finishing school when COVID-19 restrictions were at their peak, I started to feel like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day – trapped in a cycle of repeating the same mundane day over and over again. 

I had learned about LEAF during my studies, but never had the time to explore their programs during school. With all the extra time on my hands, I did some digging and found the Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) program. I applied immediately! I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but I was eager to start putting my forestry knowledge to use. 


The YUFL program not only gave me the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who share a passion for learning about our urban forests, but also brought a much-needed sense of normalcy to my life during times of uncertainty. We covered so many topics – from tree identification and care to community engagement. My favourite was a workshop on traditional medicine with Joe Pitawanakwat, an Ojibway educator. Joe taught us about the medicinal uses of various tree, shrub and plant species. Did you know that tea made from joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) can help ease several ailments, including fevers, gallstones and constipation? As a bonus, it’s also an excellent food source for pollinators! 


Held online, the YUFL program incorporated different modes of engagement, including workshops, mentored sessions, training series and virtual tree tours – there was something for everyone! What I most enjoyed was collaborating with an incredible group of YUFLs to host a coniferous tree identification webinar for the public. I’d never hosted a public event before, so it was both a daunting and exciting experience! It really brought me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to push myself in a safe and supportive environment. 


This program gave me the opportunity to apply and expand my forestry knowledge in new and exciting ways. I had the chance to learn from industry professionals, build my network, gain new skills and experience – and boost my confidence! 


After graduating from the YUFL program, I had the opportunity to join the LEAF team for the fall season as the Naturalization Assistant. I applied the knowledge I gained from the program to succeed in my new role. My new tree identification skills were especially useful for completing my naturalization monitoring responsibilities and my experience hosting a public event gave me the confidence to engage with the community during planting events. 
The YUFL program is a great way to gain new knowledge and skills, connect with like-minded people and build your professional network. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys being outside and learning about trees, wildlife and our natural environment! 



Learn more about the Young Urban Forest Leaders Program!


Elina Shahmirian is a Naturalization Assistant with LEAF.

The Young Urban Forest Leaders Program is funded by the City of Toronto through a Community Planting & Stewardship Grant and the Canadian Tree Fund.