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