Gunther swiftly rose through the department’s ranks, from director of rangers to, eventually, chief of the division of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources. In 2006, Fiona Watt
, ’89 B.A., ’95 M.E.M. at the time the division chief and later its Assistant Commissioner, founded the U.S. Forest Service’s first urban field station, jointly operated by the Forest Service and the city’s Parks Department; in 2010, the station moved to Fort Totten, a rehabilitated Army installation in Queens. The office, under Gunther’s direction, is today devoted both to conducting environmental research that informs management, and to communicating the value of urban nature to the public. Oftentimes, those spheres overlap: In 2013, for instance, the station partnered with the Natural Areas Conservancy, a private stewardship group that Gunther co-founded in 2012, to conduct a massive social survey designed to determine how New Yorkers use and value 9,000 acres of city parks.
“Land management cannot be disassociated from the people who live in those neighborhoods, how they feel about those natural areas, and what they want to get from those spaces,” Gunther says. The notion of an Urban Field Station likely never crossed the mind of Gifford Pinchot, the legendary Yale forester who served as first chief of the fledgling Forest Service
; yet Pinchot’s notion of stewarding nature “for the greatest good, for the greatest number, in the long run” is well embodied by Gunther’s conception of urban forestry as public service.
he same civic spirit has guided the career of Jennifer Greenfeld, the Parks Department’s Assistant Commissioner of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources. Like Gunther, Greenfeld is an urbanite at heart: She grew up in suburban Baltimore, and as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania she conducted a tree inventory with the help of schoolkids in Philadelphia. After leaving Yale, she worked for several years in the environmental sector in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, then drove back across the country with her husband in 1997, headed for New York. Somewhere in Middle America, Greenfeld called her old classmate, Gunther, to solicit advice about seeking employment in the city. Sure, he said — come work with me at the Parks Department.