Consulting and Pretty Trees

Last week the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program posted a link to a Greenville Online (South Carolina) column titled “The Curse of the Bradford Pear.” I read it because I loathe the Bradford Pear tree. The column laments the pervasive use of the tree as an ornamental tree, because of its tendency to cross pollinate with other pear trees that spread and become nuisance trees.  I have a more visceral reaction to the tree because 1) they stink to high heaven and 2) they bloom their white buds fairly early and are a reminder that I probably haven’t taken an allergy pill. The article (and the hundreds of comments to it sharing my sentiment) got me thinking: “How is the Bradford pear STILL such a commonly used ornamental, given its issues?” Could it be not-well-thought-out consulting? It could be; let me explain.

The Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana) is an often-used ornamental tree that is known for its uniform bole and bright white flowers in the early spring. The main issues (for a homeowner) with the Bradford pear are:

·       They stink. You won’t realize it when your landscaper puts it in, but these trees smell really bad. It’s often described as smelling like rotting fish.

·       They have structural issues. You will probably replace this tree in 10 years. These trees grow quickly and, because they are planted in isolation (e.g. lining a driveway), they are often exposed to wind. The bole is prone to tearing in storms and can be a hazard to life and property.

·       Sprouting. The tree needs to be pruned constantly and, when cut down, the stump will sprout shoots that turn into a bush-like plant. If you want to completely get rid of it, you have to dig up or grind the stump.

A good landscaper should be like a good consultant: they should fully understand your needs and preferences before proposing a solution. Landscaping can be a semi-emotional decision. You just bought a new house, spring is in the air, you want to decorate… whatever reason… you want to make your space pretty. The landscaper, in the interest of delivering something that meets your stated requirements quickly may deliver you landscaping that is uniform, pretty and striking – without much regard for the future of the plants (because that’s for you to deal with).

In many ways, you may find yourself in a similar, emotional position when working with a consultant. You have a need that has boiled over to the point that you just want it FIXED. The trap can be, when solutions exist, to go get the lowest cost solution, or the one with the most bells and whistles, or the “prettiest” without regard for the full requirements or the full lifecycle cost of the solution. The result of which is you end up with a tree that stinks or breaks under pressure.

Modern organizational challenges are often solved through process improvement, technology or a combination of both. These solutions may end up costing millions of dollars over their full lifecycle. A good, actionable, thought-out plan to get from point a-to-b can help you get more than the pretty tree, but get solution that meets all your needs – at a very low additional cost. 

Welcome to Trailhead Consultants!

Thank you for visiting Trailhead Consultants! Our goal is to support natural resource management through strategic work improvements. 

Our site is new, but our goals are not: we want to improve the state of our natural resources. As natural resource management has become more interdisciplinary and has moved toward more engaging public involvement, managers have been searching for solutions (e.g. people, processes, policy, tools, etc) to assist them to keep up with these demands. Natural resource managers seeking to improve their processes face all of the challenges that anyone in any organization do, but also face a unique context: 

  • Culture: While all people are social by nature, natural resource managers are known for a propensity toward solo-work (a la Herbert Kaufman's The Forest Ranger) and being masters of their domain. 
  • Public: Natural resources are an inherently public good. In the US, that is codified to require public input in most public natural resource decisions; a requirement not necessarily faced in other arenas. 
  • Unpredictable Contexts: Budgets are going down, while needed work is increasing. Climate change adds new, unquantified layers of complexity to getting work done. What may seem like a routine project may grab national attention. 

Consulting should be approachable, understandable, and results-oriented; its end product should be a solution that has been developed iteratively with stakeholder input throughout. Consultants who understand your context, your mission, and your goals can meet these expectations more easily and with better end results. Our consulting process, "The Path" is tailored to speak to natural resource professionals needs and context. 

Trailhead Consultants is experienced in supporting strategies for natural resources law, policy, and regulation; natural resources research; natural resource process improvement; training natural resources professionals; and information technology to support natural resources including database/case management, public web management, application development, and tool adoption. 

This blog will serve as a portal for though work design to support natural resource organizations. We intend to update this blog frequently, so please check back!

Again, welcome! We hope to see you on the path!