“Best in the world, as always,” replies Preston Goodman when asked about his mood on a chilly morning. Why not? He’s the municipal chief forester for the town of Henderson. “I’m the one who always looks up,” says the man who shaped the city’s 32,000 trees for more than two decades. “It’s a year-round job, and I love it. The trees are there. They are landmarks in our society and markers of our history.
Why do humans gravitate to trees?
Think Lee Canyon. We have bristlecone pines that may be 4,000 years old. Think about what these trees have “seen”. People who come to a park and look at a tree are usually happy. This is what attracted me to this profession. I wanted to have an impact on where I live.
Did you start out wanting to be in forestry?
I had no idea I was going to finish the tree guy. I was originally going to be an archaeologist, but ended up selling liquor. But I always felt my best when I was outdoors, so I went to CSN and got a degree in horticulture. I am a certified international arborist. I can go to England and continue to be an arborist.
Is caring for trees an art or a science?
It’s half art, half science. You must know the biology of a tree. But it was the artistic part that attracted me. You need to know what a tree is supposed to look like. Each tree has a different shape. We must guide them to be what they are meant to be.
What is unique about trees growing in a desert environment?
What is unique is that we have such a wide variety of trees here – ranging from mesquites and palo verdes to ash or desert pines. They all survive here. The thing you have to ask yourself is, will this tree thrive or just survive? People tried to plant sycamores. They just don’t thrive in our altitude, although some do survive. Survive versus thrive.
You need to put 4 inches of rock in the bottom of the pot, then soil. If you just plant it in the ground, it sits in excess water and drowns. Only water it three times a week. Too much water pushes oxygen out of the roots and it dies. Everyone tells me, “My lemon tree started to fail, so I gave it more water.” You just finished it.
What can we actually do this spring to help the great outdoors?
Get rid of your weed. It uses too much water. Do not plant palm trees. A palm tree uses more water than other trees and provides almost no shade. Plant a pine tree that will take less water and provide shade while sequestering a whole lot of carbon. Plant appropriately – mesquites, palo verdes, mountain laurel. Remember: you cannot fight the desert.
What trees are in your yard?
I have a mix, including two oaks and a fruitless olive, plus two mountain laurels and lemon and lime trees. It’s like a jungle there.
Do you drive marveling at your work?
When I started, Henderson had 32 parks, and now we’re at 67. Our goal is a park within 10 minutes of everyone’s house. And I’m proud. The other day I was driving down Water Street thinking, “Those are my trees. I did this!”