CRTI Urban Forestry Awards

CRTI recognizes outstanding organizations and individuals in the Chicago region.

Content Detail

CRTI recognizes public and private organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond this past year on behalf of the regional forest and the residents who live here.

CRTI is looking for nominations for our annual Urban Forestry Awards! Nominate an organization and/or individual who can be used as an example for others to aspire to. We all can make a difference in the regional forest, and we should recognize those that go above and beyond.

Please nominate an organization, individual, or even your own organization or yourself (no need to be shy). You may make multiple nominations.

Winners will be announced at our annual partner recognition celebration.

Nominations can be made year-round!


Nominations can be made for the following:

  • The award goes to people or groups working collaboratively to solve a forestry problem (e.g. need for next generation of arborists, low canopy in priority area, reuse of urban wood).

  • The award for outstanding management of a natural area(s).

  • The award celebrates stewardship and advocacy for natural areas on private property.

  • The award celebrates stewardship and advocacy for natural areas on public property.

  • The award celebrates partners who work across the region to engage residents and land managers in forestry matters.

  • The award goes to partners who make great strides in inspiring the next generation.

  • Separate from the other categories, the Golden Shovel is a special award that recognizes an individual for their outstanding forestry work.

  • This award recognizes an individual who worked hard to reach and engage local residents in the mission to save the urban forest.

Congratulations to the 2022 CRTI Urban Forestry Award Winners!

Accordion List

  • 2022 winner: Metropolitan Mayors Caucus

    The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus worked thoughtfully with public and private partners to develop a cohesive plan with climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for municipalities across the region. The plan is one of the first regional climate plans in the United States and represents input from 270 partners engaged in the plan creation through the stakeholder engagement process.

    The plan includes considerable support for tree planting and care at multiple levels. Growing and sustaining urban forests and natural ecosystems is a nature-based solution that will help meet the region’s climate mitigation target. As of the last update, there have been at least 34 municipalities and four councils of government that have signed resolutions supporting the MMC Climate Change Plan.

  • 2022 winners:  1) Christopher Flaherty and 2) Rolando Favela

    1) Christopher Flaherty

    Chris serves on the Elgin Sustainability Commission, which supported the city’s tree program (resulting in 500 trees planted in 2022), and as Chairperson for City of Elgin Urban Ecology work group. He donated plants, design, and time to create fifteen 100 sq. ft. demonstration native gardens for public education
    He supports Elgin Math and Science Academy eco-programming and planting of 20 oaks on the campus
    He donated the design, installation, and native plants/trees to the Elgin Public Museum of Natural History and Anthropology’s Native American Medicinal Garden exhibit, also providing information on the plants themselves and how Indigenous Peoples used them for thousands of years.

    2) Rolando Favela

    Rolando is an environmental professional and tree ambassador representing the Southwest Side of Chicago. He has been instrumental in getting more trees requested by residents in his community. His efforts have inspired new people to value trees. As a member of the Chicago Urban Forest Advisory Board he is committed to improving tree planting, care, and protection in the City of Chicago. He’s been a leader in Environmental Justice activities as part of the Southwest Collective for several years.

  • 2022 winner: Graham Stocksdale

    This awardee is notable for being the first Youth Engagement Award Winner while still a youth himself! As an Eagle Scout candidate, Graham Stocksdale decided to focus on tree planting for his Eagle Scout Service Project. His project entailed two parts. One part was organizing groups of scouts to go door-to-door to introduce residents to the City of Elgin’s free tree program. The program plants trees in the parkway strip in front of people’s houses where there are no trees. The city doesn’t have the staff to communicate directly about the program therefore many homeowners are unaware of the program. Several neighborhoods affected by Emerald Ash Borer were the focus of this part of the project.

    The second part of his project raised money for trees and rallied community volunteers to plant 42 native trees in a neighborhood park. The community is now enhanced with a new grove of native Bur Oaks, Swamp White Oaks, Yellow Bud Hickories, Sycamores, Black Cherries, and Red Oaks. Some of the trees are selected for their ability to be in a low area prone to flooding to help with stormwater flooding.

  • 2022 winner: Bonnie Johnson

    Bonnie Johnson and her family are a formidable force! She and her husband own a 30.5 acre site in Kendall County.  They, with the support of their son, have worked tirelessly to create a beautiful native prairie and oak woodland that inspire them everyday.

    They have personally invested hundreds of hours of their time and resources clearing field edges, conducting prescribed burns, removing old fences and junk, and cutting and herbiciding invasive species, and when they have the land ready, they have planted hundreds of plants, shrubs and trees to create a range of beautiful native ecosystems that support an array of native wonders and will be enjoyed for generations to come.

    They know they are having an impact by virtue of the range of species they see on their property – from delicate plants in the understory to rarely seen birds overhead. They have worked to optimize their investment by putting their property in a forest management plan and enrolling it in NRCS and State Forestry programs.

    Bonnie Johnson and her family are a natural resource in and of themselves!

  • 2022 winners: 1) Forest Preserve District of DuPage County AND 2) Lisle Park District

    Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

    In the winter of 2022, four Woodland Habitat Improvement Projects focused on oak ecosystems on 850 acres were funded and begun. The five-year projects will remove invasive woody plants, thin over-abundant woody native plants, herbicide invasive woody and herbaceous plants, augment native species, and provide follow-up management including planting of native trees and shrubs grown by District staff in their own plant nursery. In addition, district in-house staff continues to manage over 350 acres of woodland and savanna restoration in various parts of the county.  In total, these projects comprise over 1,100 acres of ecosystem management in highly urbanized areas of DuPage County.


    Lisle Park District for their Oak Regeneration Project

    The Lisle Park District manages several natural areas as habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. Many mature oaks are currently growing in their parks and natural areas but there are few young trees, which the staff identified as a problem for the long term health of the habitat. Ryan Jensen, the Park District’s naturalist, proposed a low-cost solution for this situation in the fall of 2021. It was an acorn mast year for white oaks, “…so like any good squirrel we decided to stock up– and grow our own trees.”  Acorns were collected from white, bur, swamp white, chinkapin, and dwarf chinkapin oaks and grown out. All of the seedlings- several hundred in total- will be planted in the parks over the next several years. Lisle Park District is committed to expanding and enhancing natural areas as havens for native plants and wildlife.

  • 2022 winner: West Lakeview Trees Group

    At the end of November 2021, West Lakeview residents were alerted that 29 mature city-owned trees were going to be removed so the city could perform water main work. The West Lakeview Trees community group connected with the city’s Department of Water Management to find alternatives to the water main replacement that didn’t affect the trees. A year later, that construction is complete and all 29 trees once flagged for removal have been spared. This group serves as a model for other communities facing similar major infrastructure projects.

  • Hawthorn Woods Village Trustee Steve Riess

    Trustee Riess served six terms, during which he co-founded Active Citizens for Responsible Expansion (ACRE), which was instrumental in preserving 110 acres of land which remains undeveloped to this day. He also served on the Environmental Committee, now known as the Sustainability Committee, and became the committee’s trustee liaison to the Village, as which he was instrumental in the implementation of numerous environmental initiatives that helped educate the residents of Hawthorn Woods on the importance of preservation. His passion for environmental preservation extended to the tree canopy, due to which the Village was awarded seven Tree City USA Awards, including a Tree City USA Growth Award from the Arbor Day Foundation. He created the Heritage Tree Designation for Hawthorn Woods, provided leadership in reviewing, revising and updating the Village’s Tree Ordinance,  created a Tree Management Plan, organized public education programs and workshops through the Environmental and Sustainability committees, and investigated the plausibility of creating floating habitat islands in the Village waterways. He was also involved in implementing a village-wide annual Arbor Day observance distributing trees to District 95 students and residents with over 2,000 saplings being provided in the last seven years. Steve was an asset to Hawthorn Woods, but his legacy will be felt across the seven county region as we share the benefits of the trees he protected and planted.

2022 Golden Shovel Awards

  • 2022 winner: Raed Mansour

    Raed has been instrumental in the development of the “Our Roots Chicago” program. He’s responsible for the launch and management of the Tree Equity Group in Chicago. He helped develop Chicago’s Tree Equity Map. He’s also an active Openlands TreeKeeper, having adopted a park that he regularly maintains/ provides care for. His passion for trees has pushed the bar on forestry efforts in Chicago and inspired many of those who work alongside him.

  • 2022 winner: Andy Smolen

    Andy Smolen is responsible for growing Franklin Park and creating green spaces all throughout the village. After retiring as an arborist for the City of Chicago after more than 30 years, he returned as the arborist for his hometown of Franklin Park to beautify his community. When Andy found out that Franklin Park was ranked as one of the highest priority communities by the Chicago Region Trees Initiative due to low canopy cover, poor air quality, and flood risk, he took the initiative to grow the canopy. Since then, Andy and his team have planted thousands of trees throughout the village, gotten an arboretum dedicated, worked with MWRD on a flood mitigation project, partnered with the local school district to get students involved in forestry efforts, organized outreach events to get residents engaged and excited about trees, and pursued every opportunity to make his home town greener. Andy approaches urban forestry with such enthusiasm that the people he interacts with cannot help but be inspired and aspire to do better.

Congratulations to the 2021 CRTI Urban Forestry Award Winners!

Accordion List

  • 2021 Winner: Urban Forestry Basic Training, Tricia Bethke, Shawn Kingzette, Don Roppoll