THE SUPER ARBORIST
WHEN WILDFIRE whips through a forest, tens of thousands of giant pine and fir trees, often still burning, must be felled in order for ground crews to gain access, and locals to safely escape.
“These are the jobs you don’t tell your mom about,” says Drew Peterson, Oregon-based tree climber and self-proclaimed Swiss Army knife for the U.S. Forest Service. “You are working to get trees down that are nearly burned through. The risk can be pretty staggering.”
Though Peterson’s specialty is taking out such hazardous trees, the USFS also has tapped the elite rock climber for another vital conservation task—saving endangered tree species that are threatened by fire, drought or disease. Often his goal is to return to terra firma with critical genetic material that gets distributed to seed-bank vaults around the world.
“I can’t really call myself an environmental activist,” admits Peterson. “My personality is more keeping my head down and hands dirty.”
For one mission, he packed his climbing gear and shipped out to California’s Channel Islands National Park to collect
“THESE ARE THE JOBS YOU DON’T TELL YOUR MOM ABOUT.”
cones from the Torrey pine—one of the most endangered tree species in North America. Despite high winds and long pack-outs, he returned with bags full of the pineapple-size cones: “It was basically the arborist equivalent of a Patagonian climbing adventure,” says Peterson.