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Growing an interest in urban forestry for Toronto women

LEAF, a Toronto non-profit dedicated to the city's trees, runs an annual summer mentorship program aimed at exposing young women to the field of urban forestry.

Last year's class of young foresters at work in Christie Pits.


Last year's class of young foresters at work in Christie Pits.

Kat Berton can deal with the heavy lifting involved in her dream job of urban forestry. What she can’t deal with is the misogyny.

The 25-year-old says she’s heard “some nasty opinions” while out in the field and sometimes feels underestimated when it comes to the physical labour of tree planting.

“Women and people who present in more feminine ways tend to get a lot of backlash,” she said, pointing to an incident training a group of volunteers at a corporate-sponsored planting day.

"There was just a general tone of: you're a little girl … We know better,” she said.

It’s attitudes like that she was happy to escape when she took part in the Young Urban Forest Leader program run by LEAF, a non-profit dedicated to nurturing Toronto’s trees.

The summer-long mentorship program primes young women for a career in the field, whether in academia, as arborists, or working with municipalities or agencies.

According to Statistics Canada, 82 per cent of forestry and logging workers were men in 2016, with 39,600 men compared to just over 8,500 women. That’s three per cent fewer men than in 2012, when 43,200 worked in forestry compared with 7,400 women.


As part of LEAF’s five-month program, participants are paired with park-based community groups to map and inventory trees and start adopt-a-tree programs.

Danijela Puric-Mladenovic, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s forestry school, started her 30-year career in her native Serbia. When she arrived in Canada in 1994 she found forestry was a fledgling field, mostly dominated by men, especially in leadership roles.

Canadians thought of forestry as primarily “timber and chopping the trees,” she said. Now she still spends a lot of her time explaining forestry, but says more and more women, and young people in general, are taking interest.

LEAF executive director Janet McKay agrees the push to get more women involved comes as the industry is branching out in general. The program would be equally suited to men, and she’d like to expand it in the future.

But for now, she said, "there's something about the momentum behind women getting interested in this sector that we want to help keep this moving, and help this expand."

Applications for the mentorship program, as well as community groups interested in partnering with LEAF, are due Friday.

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