Angela Hanson on Being an Advocate for Austin Trees
People of Austin Profile Series
Angela Hanson isn’t your traditional forester roaming the great outdoors. She says most foresters are males, often older than she is, who don’t usually have to juggle environmental problems and a large city government such as Austin’s. Despite the paperwork and politics, she’s clear about her mission—to be an advocate for Austin’s trees. Austin’s Urban Forestry Program, part of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in October. Hanson, who has worked for the city since 2010, was named acting urban forester in 2012 and she was named urban forester in February. “I want people to recognize the functional benefits of trees,” says Hanson, 28, adding that one of her favorite trees is a sprawling live oak in Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park near Lake Austin. Hanson, who grew up in Rochester, Minn., lives in East Austin and sometimes travels to her office on South Lakeshore Boulevard by canoe. She says she gained a strong appreciation for the country’s natural beauty on a 2011 road trip she took alone from Austin to Seattle on a 1988 BMW R100 GS motorcycle. She hit dust storms in West Texas and heavy rain in Arizona, and she got a flat tire between Nevada and California. However, Hanson says, she came back to work feeling refreshed and inspired. “My favorite way to travel is on a motorcycle,” says Hanson, who owns three motorcycles. As Austin’s population and environmental demands grow, she says she recognizes the challenges and opportunities of her job. “I discovered trees are the cornerstone of natural systems,” Hanson says. “Trees really touch people in a very big way.”
WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE IN THE WORLD YOU HAVE EVER VISITED?
That would be Mount Field National Park in Tasmania and its wonderfully bizarre botanical freakshow. There are some otherworldly things growing there.
IF YOU WERE AN INVENTOR, WHAT WOULD YOU INVENT?
I would like to invent a gun that plants trees by rapid-firing them into the ground. I think this would actually be marketable in Texas.
WHAT IS SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT TREES?
There are so many great things I could share. For one, the majority of trees’ roots exist within the first foot or so below the soil surface and can extend outward well beyond the width of the tree’s canopy. This makes trees very sensitive to soil compaction.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY OF BEING OUTDOORS?
I basically grew up outdoors as a feral child, but I especially enjoyed swimming, boating, and fishing with my parents at various northern Minnesota lakes.
WHAT IS SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I am a total tech nerd. I built my own website, and I built the computer I used to do it.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
It was difficult to overcome my passive, “Minnesota Nice” disposition. I still sometimes let people cut in front of me in lines while I scorn the backs of their heads. Managing people has been one of the best cures.
IF YOU COULD TRADE PLACES WITH ANY FICTIONAL CHARACTER, WHO WOULD IT BE?
Mary Poppins, Annie Hall, or some combination of characters from Tom Robbins’ novels.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU THE MOST?
I am inspired by people who are passionate and dedicated to their work or their craft. Luckily, those folks are very easy to find in Austin.
WHEN AND WHERE ARE YOU HAPPIEST?
I am happiest when riding anywhere on my motorcycles, preferably in the company of good friends.
WHERE DO YOU GO IN AUSTIN TO GET AWAY?
An urban forester never gives away their favorite place of solace. My second favorite place to get away is on Lady Bird Lake in a kayak.