Magazine article American Forests

The Tree Gangs of Glittertown

Magazine article American Forests

The Tree Gangs of Glittertown

Article excerpt

Los Angeles, like all cities great and small, can benefit from more and healthier trees. The Global ReLeaf challenge to plant trees for environmental improvement and to combat global warming is especially relevant to this sprawling metropolis of cars, suburbs, and freeways. Four citizen-activist groups living under the Los Angeles heat-and-haze umbrella have recognized the need to take up the challenge and make a difference locally. Their work is especially note-worthy for individuals and groups across the country trying to form tree alliances of their own. If these four organizations can make a difference in Los Angeles, their techniques will work in other parts of the nation, with minor modifications.

The three newer Los Angeles groups--Tree Musketeers, Northeast Trees, and the Tree Society of Orange County--find inspiration in the TreePeople legacy. TreePeople, founded by Andy Lipkis in 1970 when he was only 15, has been an incubator of sorts for the others. "I'll admit we have picked their brains," said Tree Musketeers' Gail Church. Scott Wilson founded NOrtheast Trees after attending a TreePeople seminar.

In its 21-year history, TreePeople has gained worldwide recognition for its tree-planting activities. It is best known as the group that organized the planting of one million trees prior to the 1984 Olympics. In 1986 TreePeople distributed 6,000 fruit trees to Africa, where the trees do double duty, providing food and aiding the environment. More recently, TreePeople has taken on a broader citizen-forester training mission, and it has played an integral role with AFA in organizing the Fifth National Urban Forest Conference, to be held this month (November) in Los Angeles.

But TreePeople is not about to give up its grassroots origins. When I visited the group's headquarters last February, I noted the plush Beverly Hills address, and as I drove past mansions and manicured lawsn, I wondered which of the great estates would belong to TreePeople. I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the top of a hill and found the tree group's home to be ever so humble.

TreePeople's base is a converted fire station and lookout perched atop a ridge that overlooks Beverly Hills to the south and Hollywood to the north. The buildings are on the grounds of a 45-acre public park, Coldwater Canyon Park. On the warm February day when I visited, it was too hazy to distinguish much of what was below.

TreePeople founders Andy and Katie Lipkis had just returned from a promotion tour for their book, The Simple Act of Planting a Tree. The book is a compilation of what they have learned about planning and funding tree-planting events. The authors challenge concerned individuals to become the creators and keepers of a new generation of urban forests, and they provide worksheets in the appendix to guide those getting started. The first printing of 60,000 sold out within a year, and a second printing is now available.

But tree planting and care are not the only activities promoted by TreePeople, as I found out during my visit. I watched a group of schoolchildren learn about recycling, organic gardening, and composting. Each year, TreePeople hosts thousands of children at workshops and meets with thousands more at area schools.

"We know our programs are successful when we have parents calling in and complaining that their kids are making them recycle," said Karen Johnson, TreePeople communications manager.

TreePeople also trains adult volunteers--called citizen foresters--in how to select tree species and planting sites, plant and maintain tree, obtain permits, raise funds, conduct meetings, and recruit volunteers. To date, TreePeople has "graudated" more than 150 citizen foresters, who then go back to their communities and mobilize residents to help improve the local environment.

Citizen training is an important ingredient with the three newer Los Angeles tree organization, too. …

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