Forestry Camp Program Prepares Reentrants For Tree Maintenance Careers

forest treesImage by Vali Photos

BENNER TWP, PA — Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Deputy Secretaries John Norbeck and Michael Walsh recently visited the State Correctional Institution at Rockview in Centre County to tour the institution’s woodshop and meet the group of 13 men who have been a part of a 5-week intensive arboriculture vocational training program at the facility’s Forestry Camp.

The training program, created by DCNR and now in its fifth year, provides valuable skills to help program participants find employment upon their release in the high-demand field of tree maintenance and forestry.

The deputies had the opportunity to watch participants showcase tree climbing skills they gained during the program’s duration.

“The Forestry Camp provides training in the areas of forestry, horticulture, and agriculture for those who meet strict eligibility criteria to live and work outside of the secure perimeter of SCI Rockview,” said Corrections Forest and Nursery Manager Wade Renninger. “The partnership with DCNR, coupled with the unique layout of the institution, allows incarcerated workers to learn and apply new skills that will help them find gainful employment upon release.”

The camp manages facility forestland for timber and firewood production, maintains boundaries and roads, and watershed quality through best management practices. Also contained within the 5,800-acre institution are a tree nursery, greenhouses, and a farm operation. A wildfire crew is available to assist the state Bureau of Forestry with manpower for fighting forest fires in portions of four forest districts surrounding SCI Rockview.

“This program has successfully helped connect reentrants for employment in the tree-care industry, and DCNR is committed to recruiting more people into outdoor professions,” said Norbeck. “We are excited to expand this intra-agency Corrections and Conservation Collaborative into other realms of conservation, including plant propagation and integrated pest management, as well as to other DOC institutions.

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“In fact, this past fall we incorporated lessons in meadows as part of the Forestry Camp training, and in summer of 2019 we piloted an 8-week streamside buffer training program at SCI Huntingdon where participants helped restore 2-acres along a stream,” Norbeck said.

The multi-week arboriculture training program includes sessions on tree climbing and tree risk assessment, tree identification, tree pests and diseases, and pruning. The curriculum is based on industry recognized certifications and standards and has been endorsed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

To date more than 140 incarcerated individuals have participated in the DCNR vocational training programs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pennsylvania companies employ among the largest number of people in the tree maintenance field in the nation.

For more information on the Bureau of Forestry visit the DCNR website. For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, visit

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