Advancing Arboriculture Award

The "Advancing Arboriculture Award" was created as a partner to the "Legislator of the Year Award" to provide TCIA with another avenue to recognize support for our issues beyond an award from our political action committee.

This award is given to a governmental agency, institution or green industry partner, that has worked to advance legislation, regulation or practices favorable to the tree care industry.

Nominations for the Advancing Arboriculture Award are made by the TCIA staff and the Board of Directors of the TCIA. The recipient is honored at TCIA’s annual Winter Management Conference.

Current winner

2016 Advancing Arboriculture Award

Ron Zillmer recognized for Advancing Arboriculture

The Advancing Arboriculture Award was presented during a ceremony at Winter Management Conference in Puerto Rico in February. The “Advancing Arboriculture Award” is given to a government agency, institution or a green industry partner that has worked to advance legislation, regulation or practices favorable to the tree care industry.

This year, we’d like to honor someone whose contributions to advancing arboriculture are likely to be measured for decades to come.

Almost five years ago, there were a lot of industry and academic conversations about students, the needs of the tree care workforce, and the gap between the two. The ISA, Davey, Bartlett, Husqvarna, Vermeer, university professors and others looked at the issue with an eye toward addressing a shortage of working arborists. All saw the need to support the value of an arboriculture degree. All saw troubling signs of declining enrollments and the lack of understanding among high school students about the great careers available in tree care.

Amidst all this talk, one person actually had a plan that included:

  • Starting new 2- and 4-year college arboriculture programs.
  • Organizing networks of employers who would work with students on campus and provide job opportunities after graduation.
  • Creating materials and systems for businesses to recruit students into new and existing arboriculture programs at colleges.

It took a few years, many more meetings and some tweaks here and there, but that original plan, authored by today’s honoree, Ron Zillmer, eventually became TCIA’s Workforce Development Initiative.

Before Ron was devising plans to advance arboriculture, he studied urban forestry at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and earned a master’s degree from Purdue. Following graduation, he joined Milwaukee’s Forestry Department.

Ron left there in 1999 to join Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids. His mission was to create a new associate’s degree program in arboriculture. He succeeded in launching a program that has graduated hundreds of arborists employed at TCIA companies throughout the United States. Many of these students go on to four-year degrees. Presently, the Mid-State program contributes approximately 16 percent of the students entering the University of Wisconsin’s Urban Forestry program.

Most recently, Ron worked with members of the Wisconsin Arborists Association to create a new degree program at Gateway Community College in southeast Wisconsin. Soon, that program will be turning out graduates that no doubt will join TCIA member companies throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and the rest of the country. But that’s not all.

Four years ago Ron approached the Wisconsin Department of Labor seeking to create an apprenticeship program for arborists. Working with teams of college instructors, TCIA members, and the Wisconsin Arborists Association, the program kicked off in June 2016. A modifi ed version of the blueprint is under review by the U.S. Department of Labor for use in all 50 states.

For these and many other contributions we find him to be a worthy green industry partner and recipient of TCIA’s Advancing Arboriculture Award.


Past winners

  • 2015 Sharon Lily, ISA
  • 2014 Laura Styles and her co-workers Hank Cierpich, James Rogge, Egils Kronlins and Robert Harrison
  • 2013 Sandy Clark, Village of Mount Prospect, Illinois
  • 2012 Keith Cline, USDA Forest Service
  • 2011 Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition
  • 2010 Connie O’Neill, Joe Barela and William Lykes with MIOSHA’s Consultation Education and Training (CET) Division
  • 2009 Jay Withrow, Director of VOSH Office of Legal Support
  • 2008 Michael Galvin, State of Maryland
  • 2007 George Hauptman and Cal-OSHA
  • 2006 John Meredith, Vice President of Government Relations for The Federation of Employers and Workers of America (FEWA)