Rooting a Career in Urban Forestry with the Young Urban Forest Leaders

Becoming a Young Urban Forest Leader (YUFL) proved to be a formative experience for Natalie Secen. She joined the YUFL program with an interest in urban forestry and now, four years later, has a fulfilling career working for a private tree care company. How did this all happen? Natalie shares with us how joining the YUFLs helped root her career in urban forestry.


Natalie studied a Master’s in Resource and Environmental Management at Dalhousie University. As part of her studies, she worked with Halifax Regional Municipality’s urban forestry team in 2016 and found the experience enjoyable. That’s why she started looking for opportunities to network in urban forestry after graduating. When she moved to Ontario later that year, she stumbled upon LEAF and the YUFL program. Realizing what a great fit it would be, she applied and was accepted into the 2017 cohort!


As a participant of the summer-long program, Natalie and the other YUFLs were supported by LEAF mentors and gained an array of experiences. Over the course of the summer, Natalie met amazing people and developed valuable skills from tree species identification, to event planning and delivery. Thinking back, what stood out to her was the level of autonomy her and her teammates had when engaging community members in urban forest stewardship— truly being able to make their project their own! She also loved connecting with industry professionals who shared their insight, experience and advice when looking for a career in urban forestry and arboriculture.  


Participating in the YUFL program motivated her to keep pursuing urban forestry. After wrapping up the program, Natalie went from mentee to mentor. She joined the LEAF team as Volunteer and Stewardship Intern in 2018 and helped deliver the YUFL Program that year. Driven by her passion, she went on to pursue a certificate in arboriculture and urban forestry at Fleming College in 2019, expanding on the knowledge and skills she gained from the YUFL program.


These days, Natalie works as a groundsperson and climber for TreeWorks Professional Tree Service, a private tree care company in Halifax, and is pursuing an arborist certification. In this role, she is helping to launch a tree pest management program, starting with emerald ash borer injections.


Reflecting on her own journey, she encourages anyone who is looking into a career in urban forestry to get out there and meet as many people as they can. Regarding the YUFL program, she had the following to share:


“Whether you are certain that urban forestry is the end goal or are unsure about what direction you want to head in, the Young Urban Forest Leaders program is an amazing opportunity to test the waters and gain valuable transferable skills! 


Want to join the 2021 Young Urban Forest Leaders? We’re accepting applications from Toronto residents, ages 18 to 29 years old, until Sunday, April 4! Learn more.


Lam Tran is the Education Coordinator at LEAF.


This blog is part of a series intended to highlight YUFL alumni. The blogs were written by Lam Tran based on responses collected in 2020 and revised in 2021 with the purpose of sharing YUFL alumni experiences, as participants of the program and their journeys after graduating from it. Read other blogs on the Young Urban Forest Leaders program here.


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