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Growing Extension forestry team speaks for the trees

a group of people stand in a circle in a field surrounded by trees listening to someone speak from the back of a truck

URBANA, Ill. — Oaks, elms, hickories, and other trees cover Illinois in a tapestry of forests and woodlands that shade homes and parks, shelter and feed wildlife, produce oxygen, and stabilize soil. Trees once covered more than a third of Illinois, but now that number is halved and disease, climate change, and invasive species threaten what remains.

University of Illinois Extension foresters are a link between the university, communities, and the forests across the state, providing educational programs, training, and technical assistance to improve forest and tree management statewide. 

“Our goal is to give homeowners and forest owners, resource managers, and volunteers access to evidence-based information to help them confidently manage their trees so they’re healthy and meet whatever their personal goals are,” said Christopher Evans, forestry Extension and research specialist. 

A man in protective gear uses a saw to cut plants from a downed tree

The Extension forestry team is made up of staff based on the campus of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in southern Illinois and includes Evans, Kevin Rohling, and Justin Vozzo.

Rohling recently began a new role as an Extension specialist in forest management and ecology. He conducts research and leads public programs on topics ranging from how moths and butterflies are affected by different management methods to using drones to map forest health issues. 

“I really enjoy teaching people about things they may not have experienced before or helping them safely execute a task,” Rohling said. “Teaching children is always rewarding because they are so enthusiastic to learn about trees.” 

Rohling has a bachelor’s and master's in geography from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has worked in natural resource conservation since 2004 with organizations including the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area, Natural Land Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Great Basin Institute, Illinois EPA, Great Rivers Land Trust, and National Park Service. He can be reached at (618) 695-3383 or

Vozzo, whose focus is on urban forestry, joined Extension in May and is the newest member of the forestry team. He will also coordinate the Illinois Big Tree Registry.

More than 80% of Illinois residents live in urban areas and are benefitting from the trees around them without realizing it. The trees shade and shelter buildings from the sun and wind and their roots filter stormwater runoff and reduce flooding. 

“Urban trees often face greater challenges than those in rural areas because they have less space to grow and are more likely to be damaged by human activity,” Vozzo said. “That is why it’s really important for people to manage trees in their parks and neighborhoods, so we continue to benefit from them.” 

Justin has a bachelor's and master’s in natural resources and environmental sciences from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist. He previously worked for the U.S. Forest Service and the National Ecological Observatory Network conducting forest inventory and ecological monitoring. He can be reached at

The Extension forestry team conducts research projects, maintains demonstration sites, and teaches courses at University of Illinois.  They also administer the Illinois Big Tree Program and the new Citizen Big Tree Inspector initiative.

The program is part of the university’s department of natural resources and environmental sciences. Explore more about Extension forestry resources at

SOURCES: Christopher Evans, Extension forestry and research specialist; Kevin Rohling, Extension forest management and ecology specialist; Justin Vozzo, Extension forestry specialist.

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.