Urban foresters greening Hayes Valley and beyond

by Lauren Daley

Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) is a non-profit organization that helps individuals and neighborhood groups to plant and care for street trees and sidewalk gardens in San Francisco. By greening the streets of San Francisco, they support the health and livability of the urban environment. Since 1981, FUF has planted almost 45,000 trees (more than all the trees in Golden Gate Park), and is responsible for the planting of over 40% of San Francisco’s street tree canopy.

Street trees at Webster and Hickory
Street trees on Hayes
Street tree at Webster and Grove
Street trees on Hayes near Laguna
Street tree at Webster and Ivy

According to FUF, San Francisco still has a meager urban forest; our “tree canopy coverage,” or the amount of land covered by trees, is only 12%. Compare that to San Jose at 15%, Oakland at 21%, and Portland at 42%. Though some neighborhoods, such as Hayes Valley, are pleasantly leafy, others have room for improvement. And it’s not just a matter of beautification; street trees reduce storm-water runoff, clean the air, increase property values and reduce stress.

Friends of the Urban Forest started with five men: George Williams, Brian Fewer, Keith Davey, Jack Spring, and Fred Smith. After the City and County of San Francisco cut funding to urban forestry in the late 1970’s, they decided to take matters into their own hands by organizing neighborhoods to plant and care for their own trees. FUF’s first tree planting took place on March 7, 1981 – California’s Arbor Day – on Sanchez Street in Noe Valley.

Shortly thereafter, neighborhoods across the city began to organize their own tree-planting events with FUF’s leadership and support. Thanks to the partnerships and programs developed by FUF, the capital to purchase trees comes primarily from government, corporations, and foundations rather than individuals. The labor to plant and care for trees comes primarily from volunteers. Besides subsidizing the costs of trees and organizing volunteers, FUF also coordinates the permitting process of street greening projects and tree replacement.

Beyond the planting and organization of placement of new street trees, FUF is our urban forest steward. They are currently taking inventory and recording the health of San Francisco’s tree canopy through their Urban Forest Mapping Project and could use your help. Go to https://www.urbanforestmap.org to enter trees near you.

FUF volunteers are trained in TREEage (pronounced triage) where volunteers perform emergency tree rescue, or will intervene if trees are fallen or being abused. One instance of tree abuse is when people illegally top a tree, a process where people drastically prune their trees placing the trees’ future growth and health at risk. If you see a tree at risk or one being severely pruned, please call FUF at 415.561.6890 to prevent this from happening.

Along with planting and tree replacement programs, FUF also has tree care programs and educational and outreach programs. If you would like to spend some time on a delightful tree tour through San Francisco, learn proper tree pruning techniques, train to be a citizen forester, volunteer to provide tree care, or act as an advocate for more trees in your neighborhood and beyond, FUF makes it possible. For more information visit their website at https://www.fuf.net.

If You Would Like A Tree or Sidewalk Garden:

Neighborhood greening projects like tree planting and sidewalk gardening require a certain number of interested property owners or tenants working with the permission of their landlords. Usually, a neighborhood organizer who works closely with FUF to spearhead a planting event is necessary. Anyone can be a neighborhood organizer. If you are interested, call FUF’s Doug Lybeck at (415) 268-0773 or email him at dougly@fuf.net.

If you are an individual who wants a new tree, an unhealthy tree replaced, or a sidewalk garden, FUF has done all initial research and has made the information readily accessible on their website and they will assist you towards your planting goal. Visit https://www.fuf.net/treePlanting/solo.html to get your own project started.

FUF in Hayes Valley:

HVNA interviewed Adam Byrnes, a Hayes Valley resident who serves on the Board at FUF. Adam describes the state of trees in Hayes Valley as generally good, but that there is always room for improvement. FUF would like to organize a neighborhood volunteer planting event in the near future when enough interest evolves.

FUF sees large property owners as key partners to get more trees. Currently, FUF is targeting the Federal Mint at Buchanan Street and Herman Street and the UC Extension at 55 Laguna.
FUF has already held two successful planting events in Hayes Valley. You can see those happy, healthy trees on Ivy Street adjacent to AgeSong and on Page Street adjacent to Samovar and the Zen Center. You can identify the trees by their white FUF tags on their cross braces.

Adam strongly encourages everyone to participate in a tree planting or sidewalk greening event. Often, it brings neighbors together for the first time who have lived in the neighborhood for many years: Community is built through the act of planting trees.

Adam mentioned that during May on Monday nights, Straw, a new Hayes Valley restaurant on Octavia and Page, will be donating 10% of its profits to FUF. Enjoy a dinner on a Monday in May at Straw and help FUF in the process!

FUF today:

Today, FUF is a thriving nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing San Francisco’s urban forest, building community, and taking a local leadership role in mitigating global environmental problems through the simple act of planting trees. FUF has planted almost 45,000 trees in more than 1,000 neighborhood tree-plantings, has a strong partnership with the City and County of San Francisco, is well loved among San Franciscans, and has an outstanding reputation among urban-forestry organizations nationwide.

HVNA would like to thank Adam Byrnes and Ben Carlson for providing information and taking the time to be interviewed.