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Each tree I climb in the beautiful forest I’m working in is a notable moment

In honor of International Women’s Day, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is sharing stories about women in the arboriculture profession throughout the month of March to honor their contributions to the industry.

Valentine Alt’s career with arboriculture began when she met a team of scientists.

“I met a team of botanists that were working with a tree climber,” Alt said. “The tree climber was obtaining samples from trees in the forest and I thought, ‘That’s a great job!’”

Alt studied biology at Versailles University in France, then moved to French Guiana, South America.

Valentine Alt - Women in Arboriculture 2021“I was working in a nature reserve, Reserve Naturelles des Nouragues, that is located in the middle of the Amazon and decided to become an arborist,” she said. “The school to become an arborist in French Guiana first opened in 2011 and I completed 10 months’ worth of training.”

Now Alt works as a self-employed arborist in French Guiana.

“Each tree I climb in the beautiful forest I’m working in is a notable moment,” she said. “They are all unique and lead to a new discovery each time.”

Looking back on the first time she worked with scientists, Alt said she felt nervous about whether she could perform well enough.

“The first time I worked with scientist they asked me to help them obtain samples from some pretty high trees,” she said. “It was a great job, but it was my first professional climb and I felt a lot of pressure on me; however, when I came down with the first sample they were so excited and grateful it was as if I brought them treasure. It was a very nice feeling and I began to feel more comfortable in my abilities.”

Although she chose to become an arborist to work with scientist in tropical forests, she said she wasn’t very familiar with pruning, utilizing a chainsaw and various other aspects of being an arborists.

“I first thought I would never be able to do that part of the job and it was very far from what I was expecting to do,” Alt said. “The first time I saw pictures and videos of people climbing with chainsaws and doing tree removal work I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if one day I am able to do this, for sure, I could be proud of myself, but this is absolutely crazy. But little by little I became better with more practice with pruning and I realized that, like any job, if you are dedicated and motivated, you can learn it and be proud of succeeding what you first thought was impossible.”

Another challenge came when Alt was called to give a one week class, Introduction to Pruning and Use of a Chainsaw, to six men recently released from prison.

“This was a big challenge for me,” she said. “I am always very stressed when I speak in from of people, and in this case, they didn’t expect me to be a woman. I could tell the look in their eyes were saying, ‘What is this young woman going to teach us about chainsaws.’”

Alt said she went through with the course and through the process she gained their respect by demonstrating things they’ve never seen before, and she gained their trust with jokes, humor and derision.

“I really think any job can be done by either men or women, when it's a matter of loving it,” she said. “I don't see any reason why a woman wouldn't be able to be an arborist. . Women have their place in this industry as well as men.”

Check out the other Women in Arboriculture profiles.