MN Community Forestry Awards

Sponsored by MSA and the Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee (MNSTAC) to annually highlight great work being done in the industry and people and organizations making a difference.  

2024 Awards Celebration – June 20, 2024 @ 10:30 AM

Join MNSTAC and MSA as we celebrate this year’s community forestry award winners! You’ll hear all about their amazing contributions to urban forestry in Minnesota. We’ll celebrate with lunch and networking after.

Thursday, June 20, 2024 @ 10:30am with lunch to follow

In-Person Location:
Minnetonka Community Center – Dining Room
14600 Minnetonka Blvd, Minnetonka, MN 55345

RSVP HERE if you plan to attend in-person and would like to join for lunch.

Join virtually on Zoom

Or join by phone
Dial in by phone:
651 372 8299
Meeting ID: 947 7048 8300

Award Categories:

Gary Johnson Leadership Award – Awarded for outstanding service and commitment to the advancement of community forestry. This is the highest achievement award.

Volunteer Service Award – Awarded to the individual or organization whose service has contributed most significantly to community forestry.

Outstanding Project Award – Awarded to the individual or organization that has organized and implemented the most innovative and successful project.​

Treescaping Award – Using trees in a unique and desirable landscape form through outstanding efforts in the promotion of community forestry best management practices.​

Practitioners Award of Excellence – Awarded to an arborist and/or practitioner and/or community for dedicated service and support to the practice of arboriculture.​

Innovation Award – Awarded to the individual or organization that has created or started an outstanding project that really shines through for its innovation.​

Toothless Saw Award


To nominate someone or an organization you think deserves recognition, submit a Nomination Form. Nominations are due by April 26 – Arbor Day! ​

2023 Community Forestry Award Recipients​

Innovation Award – Green Minneapolis

Through Green Minneapolis’ Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative, a public/private partnership, Green Minneapolis has partnered with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to expand the urban tree canopy. This project included the 23,755 city trees planted by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board from 2019 to 2021 in Minnesota’s first urban tree carbon offset program. The trees from this project are estimated to store 48,865 metric tons of carbon over the 25 year duration of the project. In addition to the carbon sequestered by the trees, the project also quantifies rainfall interception, air quality improvements and energy savings achieved by the trees. The initiative will identify new funding sources that will go toward tree planting and maintenance cost in an effort to expand the Metro’s tree canopy by 30%.

Practitioners Award of Excellence – Ryan Gustafson

Ryan is outstanding in his contribution to forestry in his relentless approach to volunteering, education, and community support. Ryan’s time away from work is limited but he still manages to make time to engage with his professional community in the twin cities metro as well as his local community of Buffalo, MN. His ability to grow arboricultural understanding in all facets of his life is what makes him the best nominee. He lives to care for trees and the people the trees benefit. As a board certified master arborist Ryan leads a service focused life that we could all strive to replicate. Ryan doesn’t stop caring for trees when his work day is over. He spends long hours building a community that appreciates trees and arboriculture.

Volunteer Service Award – Gordon Hanson

Gordon is a super volunteer and a TREE-MENDOUS advocate. He is the Chair of the Wood Lake Nature Center Board of Directors and has volunteered with them for over 18 years. He is currently the longest running volunteer at Tree Trust and attends as many tree planting events as is humanly possible. Beyond serving in his own community of Richfield, he travels around the Twin Cities metro area to help with community and school tree planting events. He is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and always ready to help someone learn about trees and planting. He has worked with thousands of community members and school children on tree planting events, and in his volunteer leadership role, he has taught and influenced many new volunteers on the importance of proper tree planting. He has successfully and generously shared his love of trees, nature and the outdoors with so many people and really deserves some recognition in his commitment to our community.​

Outstanding Project Award – Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board 

The MPRB Forestry Department successfully and safely removed a 90 inch diameter Cottonwood tree from an alley easement. This work was done by inhouse crews and a rented crane with operator. This project demonstrates the challenges faced in municipal arboriculture and how they can be dealt with by utilizing the skills and expertise of existing staff. It also demonstrates the value of training, much of which comes from MSA sponsored events.

2019 Community Forestry Award Recipients​

Treescaping Award – Hennepin County, MSR Design and Ten x Ten Architecture and Urbanism  

The Eden Prairie Library refurbishment construction project is a great example to be replicated, thanks to the partnership between Hennepin County, Ten x Ten Architecture and Urbanism, and MSR Design. Landscape plans utilized structural soils, permeable pavers, a rain garden, forester recommended species selections, and gravel bed trees that were planted by Hennepin County foresters and corrections clients. The innovative plan used New Horizon elm, Beacon oak, swamp white oak, redbud and arborvitae to create an outdoor classroom and screening in an innovative landscape plan that is inspiring, resilient, sustainable and saved $17,000 over balled and burlap option.

Practitioners Award of Excellence – University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources Youth Engagement in Arboriculture (YEA)

​The University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources Youth Engagement in Arboriculture is a project that gets youth into the saddle and up in trees to get them excited about a possible career in arboriculture. When kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, the profession of arborist is rarely heard of. Chad Giblin, Alissa Cotton, Lydia Voth, Laura Nelson and Monica Randazzo set out to change that.

The Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota implemented YEA in 2016 to educate youth in elementary to high school about arboriculture and urban forestry. Funding is provided by grants from the Minnesota Turf & Grounds Foundation, the Minnesota Society of Arboriculture, the USDA Forest Service, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In 2018, YEA programs received volunteer support from local tree care professionals, hosting arborists from City of Saint Paul, Four Seasons Tree Care, Jubert Tree Care, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, Northeast Tree, Rainbow Tree Care, SavATree, and Vineland Tree Care.

A major highlight of YEA is tree climbing field trips and camps. Both on the ground and high in the treetops, youth are engaged in thrilling experiences that improve their knowledge and their physical abilities. Each workshop provides opportunities for kids to climb trees like professional arborists. While undertaking fun and rewarding challenges, they learn about proper safety and communication, as well as about academic and career paths that involve trees and tree care. Games involving the rigging and suspension systems allow youth to work and learn in teams, and each person is given personal instruction from an expert during their chances to ascend trees. All events maintain full compliance with the Standard for Safety Requirements for Arboricultural Operations (ANSI Z133) and coordinate with ISA Certified Arborists® to ensure that safety and expertise are prioritized. YEA shines through its accessibility; there is no basic degree of skill or fitness necessary to participate in any activity. Kids of all levels have equal opportunities to have fun and learn. A variety of techniques are taught, which also gives participants a chance to discover their personal strengths. In addition to climbing events, YEA has hosted field trips on a myriad of topics, such as remote sensing, dendrology, nursery production systems, and tree propagation.

Many young people have never heard of urban forestry or its plethora of benefits before coming to a YEA event, but through their participation they receive a new perspective of natural resources and exhilarating memories that they will bring into their futures.

Outstanding Project Award – Hennepin County, The City of Medicine Lake, and volunteer Chris Klar

The City of Medicine Lake is a tiny but close community of 371 residents, 30 of whom spent an October Saturday quickly planting 40 trees in City parks with the assistance of Hennepin County’s Department of Environment & Energy. While Hennepin County provided the bare root gravel bed trees and planting demonstrations, the city provided water tankers, mulch, soil amendments, stakes, and other equipment- all of which contributed to the success of the event.

Volunteers planted 20 fruit trees that consisted of 7 different varieties of apples and pears on a lot that was locally famous for being a fruit tree orchard back in the 1920s and ‘30s. The 20 shade trees were planted in the new Memorial Park, and Jevne Park. These 20 shade trees consisted of 7 different species including cucumber magnolia, tamarack, thornless hawthorn, horse chestnut, and northern catalpa. None of the trees that were planted were previously represented in the city, thus diversifying the city’s canopy, and making it more resilient to future pests, diseases, and climate conditions.

Without the assistance, commitment, and enthusiasm of Chris Klar, this project would never have happened. In addition, recognition should be shown not only to the City of Medicine Lake, but its residents, as well. They were equally enthusiastic and made short work of planting 40 trees.

Outstanding Volunteer Service Award – Susan Lindoo

Susan Lindoo has been chosen as the recipient of the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award for her significant contributions to community forestry, especially in Newport and Southeast Washington County. Susan serves as a tree Care Advisor, member of the Washington County Parks and Open Space Commission Technical Advisory Committee as a doer and liaison and recruiter. She puts in way more than the required 25 hours per year, attends all the TCA trainings,  and inspires and coaches others, including Master Gardeners, to be Citizen Pruner, Tree Steward or Citizen Tree Inventory volunteers by organizing these training programs for the various communities including Newport, Oakdale, Saint Paul Park.

Susan was also responsible for developing and installing the interpretive signage at the Bailey School Forest in Newport, MN. The forest and the signage are regularly used for local school tours and classes on forest trees and their uses.​

Gary Johnson Leadership Award – Gina Hugo

Gina Hugo, Parks Coordinator of Sherburne County Parks and Recreation is not only receiving the highest achievement award for her commitment to the advancement of community forestry, but she is deservedly receiving the first Gary R Johnson Leadership Award. We have renamed this award to recognize the influences of Gary who nominated her. This award going forward will pay homage to a man who has had such significant influence on Urban and Community Forestry in Minnesota that it is nearly impossible to separate the concept from Gary Johnson in this region.​

Gina Hugo has been a tireless promoter of urban and community forestry for the past decade in the Sherburne County area. She is the Coordinator for Sherburne County Parks but under her tenure as a forestry technician with the Sherburne County Soil and Water Conservation District she worked with the communities of Elk River, Big Lake, Becker and Zimmerman as well as all of the residents of the county to engage and train volunteers and municipal employees to better prepare their communities for the onslaught of emerald ash borer and increased storm damage. Gina worked with the Tree Care Advocate program to bring community-based programs such as Citizen Pruners and Tree Stewards, as well as the first community gravel beds to the county. ​

Gina has made education and volunteerism to Sherburne County through many programs, like Master Gardeners, Citizen Pruners, Tree Stewards. She hosted young tree pruning clinics for city and county staff throughout the metro, and got the first county gravel bed started through the Sherburne County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Gina also is an active participant in the Sand Plain Forestry Professionals and advocates for community trees at legislative hearings. 

2018 Community Forestry Award Recipients​

Leadership Award – Susan Burks
In her distinguished career, Susan Burks has proven that you can see the forest and the trees. Susan and her project partner are now “handing off” PlayCleanGo – Stop Invasive Species In Your Tracks to NAISMA, a national, Susan and Kimberly Lanihan-Lahti began, grew, and nurtured the program until it was standard in North America, and had outgrown its DNR home.

For the prior eight years, Susan was DNR’s Central forest health specialist. Before that, at MO Dept. of Conservation, the plant pathologist and key mover and visionary for MO Forest Keepers (utilizing citizen foresters), and a Master’s from Colorado State.

Volunteer Service Award – The Autonomous Collective of Minnesota
The Autonomous Collective of MN (AC) is a consortium of small business owners based in Minneapolis intent on working together to make a difference in their community. In 2017, founders Jason Rathe, Jim Walsh and Steve Modrow connected with Tree Trust to brainstorm ideas on how they could utilize their resources-staff and fundraising power-to improve the canopy of North Minneapolis following the 2011 tornado. The AC reached out to other small businesses and are now over ten members strong. Each member pledges a certain amount and solicitations are made to clients to increase their impact. They truly are making an impact together in a way that is innovative and addresses a specific need.​

The Autonomous Collective of MN (AC) is a consortium of small business owners based in Minneapolis intent on working together to make a difference in their community. In 2017, founders Jason Rathe, Jim Walsh and Steve Modrow connected with Tree Trust to brainstorm ideas on how they could utilize their resources-staff and fundraising power-to improve the canopy of North Minneapolis following the 2011 tornado. The AC reached out to other small businesses and are now over ten members strong. Each member pledges a certain amount and solicitations are made to clients to increase their impact. They truly are making an impact together in a way that is innovative and addresses a specific need.​

Innovation Award – Susan Burks and Kimberly Lanihan-Lahti
In 2009-2010, after being awarded a grant at DNR to combat destructive terrestrial invasive species, Susan Burks and Kimberly Lanihan-Lahti began work on what was to become PlayCleanGo – Stopping Invasive Species In Your Tracks. They explored social research to learn more about recreational users of the great outdoors, their behaviors and knowledge of natural systems.
Outstanding Volunteer Service – Mississippi Park Connection

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area’s urban canopy faces increasing pressure from invasive pests, a changing climate, and challenges with regeneration. Plant for the Future is Mississippi Park Connection’s program committed to reforesting the MNRRA. Last year, 910 volunteers gave more than 3,000 hours to help plant 5,500 trees that varied from 35 different species in 15 different river parks. Mississippi Park Connection partnered with two local brewery volunteer groups to plant 3,000 trees. We worked with 12 partners on CCMI projects. Mississippi Park Connection built 6 gravel bed tree nurseries to help grow and store bare-root trees for later planting. Mississippi Park Connection also partnered with the National Park Service for two years, studying the best way to replant cottonwood trees.​

Outstanding Project Award – Elmer Elm Tree
In 1978 the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) Forestry Department began an aggressive program of hastily removing diseased elms. When First Bank (now US Bank) recognized the impact of DED they funded an effort to educate the public about the importance of DED identification. This led to paying for a costumed tree mascot to bring attention to this cause. As a result “Elmer the Elm Tree” was created in 1978 to encouraged residents to report the symptoms of DED. This became known as “Elm Watch”. First Bank funded college students to bring Elmer to City events. By the early 1980s Elmer joined MPRB Forestry to help educate residents about tree benefits and care. He has spent 40 years improving the Minneapolis urban forest.

For 40 years Elmer the Elm Tree has spread a positive message about caring for trees during community events such as Arbor Day celebrations, neighborhood festivals, school carnivals and parades. He visits schools where students help plant trees. Estimates are that Elmer reached ½ million + residents since 1978 ( During 2018’s Minneapolis Arbor Day Celebration, 1000+ residents helped celebrate Elmer’s 40th birthday which was noted in the Mayor’s Arbor Day Proclamation. Elmer’s birthday included attendees singing “Happy Birthday” while the Arborator Band provided accompaniment from a tree crown. We proudly offers this nomination as an inspiration to other municipalities that are challenged caring for trees.​

MSA President’s Award​

​Bestowed by the MSA President onto someone who has made significant contributions to MSA and the field of Arboriculture. This award is presented each year at the Annual Fall Conference.

2023 Recipient: Lynn & George Welles
​2022 Recipient:
Louise Levy
2021 Recipient: Jim Vaughan
​2020 Recipient:
Alissa Cotton
​2019 Recipient:
Taylor Hamel
2018 Recipient: Charlie Perington