A Tree Canopy for Every Park, School, and Yard

Releaf planting
ReLeaf Petaluma planting 15 oaks at the entry of Petaluma High School with the Environmental Club, Jan 2022. Photo courtesy ReLeaf Petaluma

With a Goal of Creating an Urban Native-Plant Oasis, ReLeaf Petaluma Hits the Ground Planting

ReLeaf Petaluma

As a new organization we are making rapid progress planting native trees in our city. People are wanting to take personal action against climate change, and this action is generating lots of support among both citizens and city staff. The goal of ReLeaf Petaluma is to increase our urban canopy by 10% by adding 10,000 native trees to our parks, schools, riparian corridors, and housing with lower income. Native trees, especially oaks,  have high carbon sequestration capacity and provide food and shelter to many types of birds and insects. Trees also have many benefits for city dwellers, including safer and slower streets, cleaner air, reduced electric bills, waking up to bird song, and improved overall health and socialization.

From the group’s beginnings among a handful of enthusiastic experienced volunteers, we started small and were awarded grants working with the schools and city of Petaluma in Sonoma County. Our breakthrough moment occurred one fine day in 2021—also the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day—when we planted 150 trees, mostly native oaks, with recycled water along a popular walking path in a local park. More than 200 people showed up, and trees were in the ground in 5 hours. We received grants for 300 more trees in parks with recycled water sources and two schools with a groundwater source. We helped the city get a CAL FIRE grant for developing an Urban Forest Plan. We amazed even ourselves by getting this much done in less than two years from our start time.

How did this work out so well? In large part, it was the right people in the right place at the right time.

In November 2020, a group of dedicated native-plant advocates began a conversation about how to get more native trees in every park, farm, and backyard in Petaluma. The first meeting included Wendy Jacobs, Lendri Purcell, Moira Sullivan, Taryn Obaid, Bonnie Allen, and Katherine Sky. Then John Shribbs, chair of the Petaluma Tree Advisory Committee, City Councilor D’Lynda Fischer, and community leader David Powers got involved. They brought others to the conversation, and the group coalesced around a name, vision, and mission statement.

Releaf path
ReLeaf Petaluma planted 152 trees along a trail at Wiseman Park with 175 volunteers in April 2022. Photo courtesy ReLeaf Petaluma

Several of the original team spoke up at various city council and committee meetings and got the attention and support of staff and civic activists. Some local landscape experts jumped on board to assist with technical details. We got to know California ReLeaf, a state-wide advocate for urban forestry, which provided advice and fiscal support. A search for a fiscal sponsor found Trees Foundation, which gave us insurance, financial accounting, and federal nonprofit status. Local nonprofit organizations showed up to add volunteer access. Through all this we had leadership and people management from Wendy Jacobs, who had recently moved to Petaluma from the East Coast with accounting acumen and 8 years’ experience running a tree program.

ReLeaf developed ideas about where to plant and how to raise funds for trees. Our volunteers created a listing of local trees and shrubs from authoritative sources and posted it on our new website, a volunteer effort by local photographer Lance Kuehne, together with John Shribbs. Grants were applied for and won, including a grant that we wrote for the city of Petaluma that won $226,000 for urban forest planning. We were granted fiscal sponsorship from Trees Foundation. Before the end of its first year, ReLeaf had planted almost 200 trees. You can see our trees at Petaluma High School (out front) and at Wiseman Park (everywhere). We have over 500 trees to put in the ground this coming planting season 2022–2023 despite the severe drought. We presented the goal of 10,000 trees to the community and received supportive feedback.

Entering our second planting season, we have a full slate of volunteer planting events and will plant nearly 500 trees, maybe more. We have strong partnering arrangements with the city of Petaluma and with Rebuilding Together Petaluma. We have a new Teen Tree Corps internship program, thanks to help from our partner Petaluma Peoples Service Center.

Together we can bring our vision of a Petaluma native-plant oasis to life. Wouldn’t you like to see more birds in your backyard?

For More Information: www.releafpetaluma.org