The California Treepeople

If you have ever been involved in community development work, and have at times needed a big dose of inspiration, read on about the Treepeople. The California-based environmental action/community development group knows no bounds as to what can be accomplished when the public's goodwill is tapped and channeled for the benefit of the environment and community.

Treepeople brings diverse people together to build a sense of community through tree planting projects. Currently supported by a membership of 20,000 and the efforts of more than 1,100 volunteers, Treepeople is committed to planting and tending the urban forests in the Los Angeles area. Treepeople addresses two issues: healing the environment and healing the community. Today, with an annual budget of $1.6 million and a core staff of 28, Treepeople has planted more than 200 million trees in the last 20 years.

The Sprouting

It all started in 1973, when 15 year-old Andy Lipkis went off to summer camp in the San Bernardino Mountains and saw that 40,000 trees per year were dying from air pollution. This knowledge prompted him to organize the planting of smog-resistant Coutler pines and Sequoias in the mountains. He rallied public support in getting the California Division of Forestry to contribute 8,000 trees that were scheduled to be destroyed. Lipkis got the trees, plus $10,000 in donations that was used to found the Treepeople.

Why Trees in Cities?

Planting trees in urban environments is important, even critical, for many reasons. Trees help combat pollution by trapping particulate smog from auto and industrial emissions. One trees absorb as much as 48 lbs. of CO2 per year. Trees reduce energy costs by shading buildings and parking lots. They play a key role in combatting the greenhouse effect, thereby reducing the threat of global warming. Trees beautify urban areas, conserve water, prevent storm water pollution, provide food and habitat for wildlife and increase property values by as much as 15%.

Volunteer Training

Training volunteers to be "citizen foresters" is integral to the success of Treepeople. More than 300 volunteers have been through the Citizen Forester Training program, established in 1986. For $50 the mandatory volunteer training offers a series of five sessions that cover: how to organize and run a community tree planting, species selection, tree planting and maintenance techniques. A separate training course is offered for supervisors that covers how to teach tree planting techniques and effective ways of supervising volunteers at urban and mountain plantings.

A Million Trees

What Treepeople has accomplished since its inception in 1973 is nothing short of amazing. The Million tree campaign is an example. In 1981 the City of Los Angeles drafted an Air Quality Management Plan that called for the planting of 1 million trees to help comply with the air-quality standards of the 1970 Clean Air Act. The City estimated that the plan would take 20 years to plant and cost $200 million. Tree people launched the Million tree campaign in 1981, and planted the millionth tree in 1984, at no cost to the city. To accomplish this, Tree people enlisted the participation of politicians, corporations, government agencies, community leaders, religious organizations, more than 200,000 individuals and about 200 groups.

Typical feats include:

Jan 13, 1990

Organized 3,000 volunteers to plant nearly 400 trees along the Martin Luther King Boulevard in one day. Volunteers also provide monthly maintenance.

  • Spring 1991

    Launched the Earth Ninos environmental club at East Los Angeles' Humphrey Elementary School and developed projects with students to plant 43 trees on and near campus.

  • January-March 1993

    Worked with 31 community groups to distribute 3,785 fruit trees; offered multilingual training for recipients on tree care.

    African Program

    The planting is not confined to California. In 1986, two Treepeople volunteers flew to Africa with 6,000 surplus bare root fruit trees for villages in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Senegal and Cameroon. This action was preceded by a year of research to match available trees with suitable recipients, climates, cultures and soil types in five countries. Over the next three years, 1,200 additional trees were distributed through development and governmental organizations. In 1989 Treepeople held a workshop in Tanzania on Home-Economics and Horticulture for 26 trainees; two from each African village that received fruit trees. Treepeople return twice each year to train villages in horticultural techniques and home economics. Survival rates of between 80 and 90 percent speak to the success of the project. Today these villages are operating commercial nurseries and producing dried and cooked fruit for sale.


    Activities are not limited to trees. Volunteers have also been mobilized for disaster relief work in two Southern California floods, to evacuate books from a Los Angeles library fire, and for landscaping and replanting areas destroyed by fire.

    Convincing people to contribute, putting surplus resources together and making a positive change through, and in communities is what Treepeople is about. In the words of Andy Lipkis,"our goal is to teach individuals to become managers of their piece of the ecosystem and to instill respect for our planet earth."

    (1993, May 31) One Organization's Approach: Planting Trees to Cultivate Community Life. Los Angeles Times, pp B4.


    12601 Mulholland Drive
    Beverly Hills California 90210, U.S.A.