Q&A: Meet Olivia Teel, Bethlehem’s new forester

  • Olivia Teel, of Northampton County, in June became Bethlehem’s new city forester
  • A native of the Lehigh Valley, she studied environmental science at Moravian University
  • Foresters advocate for improvements to city canopies, among other responsibilities and tasks

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Each day at work is different for Olivia Teel, depending on the season.

“ … We have a broad range of tasks that need to get done,” said Teel, the city’s new forester. “These include approving and issuing permits for removal, pruning or planting of street trees, inspecting street trees and staying in contact with city residents on any tree-related issue or questions.

“I also approve landscape plans for any projects or development of land in the city to preserve current trees and to plant new ones. I also set up any events that we may have such as fairs, Arbor Day and Tree City awards.”

Teel became the city’s forester in June, replacing John Anspac, who held the role for many years. A native of the Lehigh Valley, who also studied environmental science in college, Teel’s devotion for the environment extends past working hours.

“While I am not working as the city forester, I love to spend my free time outdoors as much as possible. Whether that is hiking, fishing or just going for a walk.”

Olivia Teel, Bethlehem forester

“While I am not working as the city forester, I love to spend my free time outdoors as much as possible,” Teel said. “Whether that is hiking, fishing or just going for a walk.”

Here’s LehighValleyNews.com’s interview with Teel. Some answers were edited for style and clarity.

Q: Did you grow up in the Lehigh Valley? If so, where? What’s your municipality now? 

A: Yes, I was born and raised here in the Lehigh Valley. I grew up in a small town by Wind Gap. I currently moved out of my hometown but still live in the same county.

Q: Tell me about your background. Did you study forestry? Were you a forester somewhere else before this role? 

A: I received a bachelor of science in environmental science at Moravian College, now known as Moravian University. Once I graduated from college in 2021, I worked for the last city forester under the internship offered each summer.

Q: What drew you to this role? 

A: I decided to look further into the role of city forester to pursue a long-term career in my field of study. As an environmentalist, I understand firsthand the importance and benefit of trees in an urban setting and the need to advocate for the improvement of the city canopy.

Q: What does a city forester do?

A: The city forester manages all urban forestry activities including monitoring, promoting, conducting, permitting and overseeing all urban forestry functions within the public right-of-way in accordance with the city’s shade tree ordinance (Article 910).

The bureau also reviews all land development plans and ensures compliance with the city’s [subdivision and land development ordinances] and zoning ordinances pertaining to landscaping/green space.

In addition, Urban Forestry manages and supports work with other departments and bureaus on forestry related matters, special programs, community outreach, education, and greening initiatives and collaborates with community associations, government agencies, and volunteer groups to build and maintain a sustainable and attractive community.

Q: Why does a city need a forester? 

A: The city needs a forester to help advocate for the importance of trees within our urban community, beautify and enhance city parks with additional tree planting where applicable, and to maintain and update the citywide urban forestry tree inventory GIS database to track and manage this asset. I also work to complete and improve permitting, licensing, nuisance abatement notifications, tree replacement and landscape plan reviews.

Being a new hire, I learn in new ways every day why a city forester is needed.

Q: What are your goals for this position, short and long-term?

A: A long-term goal for the city in this position is to continue to receive our growth and Tree City USA awards. We are currently on our 30th year of being a Tree City and 15th year for the Growth Award. Another goal I have is to partner with other city departments on how to expand our urban forest in other ways.

Q: Are there any particular projects/initiatives that you are focused on?

A: I am currently focused on the Saucon Park project, which we are looking forward to completing. I am also focused right now on replacement tree plantings from previous tree removals within the city.

Q: What issues can you address for residents?

A: One question I get a lot from residents is about private property trees. Any tree that is on private property does not need a permit for removal or pruning, though we do always recommend replacing any trees removed on private property. Any tree that is in a tree well, between the curb and the sidewalk, will need an inspection and tree permit which can be found on the city’s website.

Q: If residents need to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?

A: The best way to contact me would be via phone at 610-865-7073. We also have an abundant amount of information on tree removals, plantings, permits, tree owner’s manual, planting guidelines and more [on our website.]

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