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Women in Arboriculture - Heather Dionne

Sheer Grit and Passion

Heather Dionne’s arboricultural career began with an influential science teacher who taught biology and environmental science, but she said that when it came to trees, she’s always be “completely captivated.”

So when her science teacher suggested she study forestry at the Unity College in Maine, Dionne thought it was worth a look.

“I looked into it and realized that they had an Urban and Community Forestry program, which I thought would be a better career choice for someone living in Connecticut,” said Dionne. “So I went for it. It was amazing and I knew it was what would allow me to grow as a professional as well as be most fulfilling.”

It was during her summer breaks from school where she discovered the municipal side of the industry. Working for a small municipality in the town she grew up in, Dionne met her former boss, a tree warden who ran the parks department of the department of public works in Coventry, Connecticut, U.S.

“He took me under his wing and mentored me, showing me what his job entailed,” she said. “It was at that point that I knew I wanted to do something similar, but on a larger scale. Not really realizing that it would land me in the position I am in now as city forester for the capital city of Connecticut.”

Since becoming an ISA Certified Arborist ®, Dionne has become the first female city forester in the City of Hartford, Connecticut, identified the first infestation of Emerald Ash Borer in the Hartford, become a chair of the Connecticut Urban Forest Council, and many more accomplishments.

However, what stands out to Dionne is how she’s managed an urban forest that consists of a half of a million trees during some of the city’s toughest times.

“I have had to get creative and pull together folks on many levels and from different organizations to rebuild the program from the ground up,” Dionne said.

To rebuild the program, Dionne began creating videos that educated the public about not only her job, but about storm responses and special meetings and projects the department was conducting as well. Dionne’s work eventually lead to a following that resulted in the city’s Tree Advisory Commission creating its own page called “Capital Forest.” 

Dionne credits her success to hard work and her ability to reach her goals by “sheer grit and passion.”

“You have to work hard,” she said. “You have to prove yourself. And you can’t let the opinions of others affect your goals. No one else is here to write the story for you. And, I always compliment and give credit where credit is due”

However, Dionne’s career has not been without its challenges. Over the course of her career she said she’s had to learn many lessons, particularly lessons about how to be a good boss and leader.

Additionally, she said that she’s had to prove that just because she is a woman, it doesn’t mean that she cannot keep up with her male counterparts.

“You have to prove yourself, and you can’t let the opinions of others affect your goals,” she said. “The stories I could tell, about wanting a certain climbing harness, wanting specific rigging training, comments afterward about my pruning cuts (they were surprised I was the one who pruned that tree, because the cuts were so good), the list is endless. It makes a great balance to have women in the industry because we add another layer of perspective, new ideas and we tend to make stuff happen. Women, if given the chance, will prove themselves again and again.”

Despite all her successes, Dionne said her greatest accomplishment is being a mother.

“She is my reason for everything,” she said. “I have taken her to emergency calls since she was 5 months old. She joined me for a tree warden workshop when she was only 4 weeks old. This kid knows a fair amount about municipal forestry for someone so young. It’s our way of life. Mom has a couple of big responsibilities: raising her and taking care of the city’s trees and ensuring the public is safe. So that is what I am most proud of in my career.”

Check out the other Women in Arboriculture profiles.