Back
How we manage our forests for health and safety: Meet our head arborist

Protecting forests is a top nature-based climate change solution, and it’s core to our business model. A large part of protecting each forest is about caring for and maintaining the trees that reside there, an effort that’s led by our head arborist, Jake Simon. 

Learn more about Jake and Better Place Forests’ approach to managing our forests. 

An early interest in forestry

Jake grew up in rural Indiana. His parents were outdoors enthusiasts, and they passed down their love of nature to Jake through backpacking trips to places such as Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks. In 8th grade, he had the opportunity to shadow a park ranger at Glacier National Park — his first exposure to the potential of a career in forestry. Jake eventually attended Northern Arizona University, home to one of the best forestry programs in the world. 

“As head arborist, my main job is to manage the health of all of our forests. There are best practices for each forest and each geographic region that we need to make sure we’re following. I’m always focused on forest health, fire risk reduction, and helping ensure a safe and meaningful experience for customers. We want our customers to feel like the forest is theirs,” said Jake. 

Our forest management approach

Better Place Forests has a unique approach to forest management. As the first company in North America to offer forests as an alternative to cemeteries, we’re focused on forest health and the experience of families who visit the forest. “At the heart of what we offer is the opportunity for everyone to be stewards of the forest and contribute to conservation,” said Jake.

To make sure that the forest is healthy, there are a number of best practices we follow. “We’re taking a lot of things into account, with the main components being forest health and safety. We want the trees in our forests to be as long lived as possible. Of course, they have a natural lifespan that varies by species, but we work to protect them from the things that would limit that. This includes managing to prevent harm to the forest from bark beetles, heavy winds, and fire risk, among other factors,” Jake explained. 

In many cases, we’re managing the forest to foster old-growth conditions. “In a late-seral stage, or old-growth, forest you have approximately six habitat trees per acre, meaning trees that have died of natural causes and now provide habitat for birds of prey, woodpeckers, and all kinds of critters that live in the nooks and crannies,” said Jake. “We can’t always create those precise conditions, but we do aim to have around that number of habitat trees to support the whole ecosystem.” We work to leave these trees when we can, remove them if they pose a safety risk to visitors, and use the raw materials of fallen trees in other areas of the forest. 

Read more: How we select our memorial forests

Thinning and pruning to cultivate growth

In an old-growth forest there are generally fewer trees per acre than a forest in a younger stage of development. We work to reduce the overall density of our forests so that the most mature trees have the best access to resources they need to continue thriving. 

“By reducing and thinning out the forest, we’re giving those trees that remain a much better chance of achieving their longest life spans,” said Jake. “There are only so many resources available, and the more trees you have, the more they’re competing. When we thin an area, we’re both reducing the fire risk by removing fuel for fires while also giving each tree a much better chance of growing to their full potential.”

Caring for the forest throughout the seasons

Within each of our forests, there are different types of forest management activities that take place throughout the year. “On some sites, it’s best to do some things during the winter. On others, it’s better to do those same things in another season. For example, in our Lake Arrowhead forest, winter was the perfect time to do our newest round of trail work because there was plenty of moisture in the ground from the snowfall, making the earth easier to work with. By contrast, our Flagstaff forest has been packed with four plus feet of snow all season, so we’re not able to do trail work. Instead, those conditions are the safest times for us to do slash pile burning — a practice that clears wood debris from a forest during moist seasons to prevent risk of fire later,” said Jake. 

Winter can also be a time when the team identifies hazard trees for removal, especially as we prepare for visits in the spring and summer. “We work with third parties to survey the forests and identify hazard trees,” said Jake. “We identify not only the ones that are imminent hazards but also those that may need to be removed next year or the year after, so we always know where to focus our health audits to make sure the trees are staying healthy.”

Building trails to create access

Our forests are designed to be natural places where habitat is conserved yet accessible enough so that people may walk or travel by UTV to their chosen memorial tree. “We have master trail plans for each of our forests, and we build them in phases. We have this year’s trail development plan in place, and next year’s planned out as well. Some of this work may be improving existing trails, and at other times, we may be building out a new path.”

These trails enable people to enjoy the forest both as a place to memorialize loved ones and hike, picnic, and see their tree grow over the years. 

Preparing trees for forest memorials

When it’s time to spread ashes at a tree, our team prepares the area around it. Before a forest memorial, they’ll inspect the tree and clear the area all around it. “We want to make sure that people can get as close to the tree as they want. So if there’s brush there, we’ll clear it. We might prune low branches. Overall, we want to support the importance of the memorial to those in attendance and make it easy for them to access their tree on that day,” said Jake. 

Caring for the forest and maintaining it to be both accessible and safe for those who visit are all part of our larger mission to inspire people to leave a meaningful legacy for the planet and the people they love. “When ashes are spread at the base of a tree, they’re becoming part of the cycle of life in the forest. It’s not just the individual tree, but the forest as a whole that people are supporting. When we’re in the forest, we’re breathing in the oxygen created by the trees, and they’re taking in the carbon dioxide that we exhale. There’s really this beautiful cycle of becoming a lot more in tune with nature, and that cycle never ends.”

To learn more about our conservation efforts and to select your personal memorial tree, schedule an online forest tour