Growing Trees Foundation


Building Capacity for Collaboration and Environmental Resilience

This year has been one of tremendous change and growth for the Trees Foundation. We bid farewell to our long-serving and well-loved Board President Susy Barsotti, and we welcomed a new Board member, John Wilhelm. We also said goodbye to our newest staff member Mary Gaterud, who left the Organizational Development Director role in August. The Trees Board then formed an Executive Committee that evaluated ways to improve our organizational structure and decision-making process flow. This Executive Committee guided Trees Foundation collaboratively through many significant decisions, including the appointment of a new Board President, Leib Ostrow, and our first Executive Director, Damien Roomets.

For three decades, Trees Foundation has operated under a collective model where staff decisions were made cooperatively, with guidance from the Board of Directors. However, as we grew in size and in the number of projects we are managing, more clarity was needed in our communication and decision-making process. As Executive Director, Damien now serves as a crucial link between the vision and direction of the Board and the knowledge, expertise, and capacity of the staff. We are grateful for Damien’s gift at communicating clearly and gracefully with all parties to promote greater understanding and appreciation throughout our organization. Damien’s wealth of expertise in fire-adapted communities mean that he will also continue to play a vital role in our fast-growing Forest Health and Fire Resources Program.

These changes at Trees Foundation have strengthened our capacity to adapt to the needs of the North Coast environmental community that we serve. We continue to offer many free or reduced-cost services to our over 40+ grassroots partner groups in our network, while also growing our young Forest Health and Fire Resources program to offer services that support individual landowners in pursuing their land stewardship and fire-resilience goals.

Introducing our new Board Treasurer

We are pleased to introduce our newest board member, John Wilhem. John’s dedication to promoting community resilience, and his unwavering commitment to the environment made him a natural fit for the Trees Foundation. He is a volunteer firefighter and on the board of the Palo Verde Volunteer Fire Department as well as being a member of the Prescribed Burn Association and the Palo Verde Fire Safe Council. John’s life’s work embodies Trees Foundation’s core values, as he continues to leave a lasting impact on the lands and communities of the North Coast.

Newest Board member, and Treasurer, John Wilhem, has been homesteading on a 420-acre ranch in New Harris with his brothers since the early ’90s.

Introducing New Staff Members

As our new Director of Organizational Development, Sarah Brooks will support our partners and the public in connecting them with the many services we offer, including Fiscal Sponsorship, GIS Mapping, Graphic Design, Facilitation, and more. Sarah is already writing grants for Trees Foundation, and has been instrumental in producing this issue of Forest & River News in close collaboration with Design Director Jeri Fergus and Board President Leib Ostrow—and for that we are deeply grateful.

Sarah is well known in the Southern Humboldt community thanks to her passion for grassroots organizing and her service on several boards including the Garberville Town Square and Beginnings in Briceland. Sarah is the vice chair of Humboldt Progressive Democrats and co-founder of the Redway Fire Safe group. Sarah is the author of a children’s book about river otters, has had numerous poems published in various journals, and has written several grants to support southern Humboldt community projects.

She was drawn to southern Humboldt in the early ‘90s because she wanted to raise her children in close connection with the earth. “I wanted to live in a community that values our interconnectedness with our forests, watersheds, and all species, “ Sarah wrote. “That is what I love about this place and I feel that Trees Foundation exemplifies those values in our community.”

Sarah Brooks, our new Organizational Development Director, is active in many community organizations in
southern Humboldt.

Chelsea Sproul also recently joined the team, and she is stewarding the administrative aspects of our Forest & Fire Resources program while also helping with the coordination of Chipper Days and outreach for the Mail Ridge project.

“I was intrigued when I heard what Trees Foundation does to empower community-based land stewardship, and I feel honored to help support that mission as a staff member,” wrote Chelsea.

Chelsea grew up in rural Pennsylvania, where time spent hiking, camping, and gardening shaped a deep connection with the natural world. She had nearly 10 years of fundraising experience for universities and non-profits in Philadelphia when she first visited Humboldt County in 2018, and was soon drawn to relocate to Briceland. “I was drawn to this area by the rugged natural beauty and incredibly welcoming and supportive community,” Chelsea reflected.

“My eyes were opened when the August Complex blew up during the 2020 fire season and southern Humboldt had a close brush with the massive fires,” Chelsea wrote. “I was inspired to join my local volunteer fire department so that I would be able to lend a hand when future fires threatened our region. Becoming a volunteer firefighter for Briceland VFD set me on a new path in life and sparked new love for our landscape and the use of prescribed fire to help maintain healthy forests and ecosystems.”

Working for Trees satisfies my desire to bolster the already strong local communities of the region and to be a better steward of the land and natural resources for a more fire-safe and ecologically sound future. I’m working on making this my home and want to ensure, in every way I can, that our region succeeds, and we can only do that by working together. “

Chelsea Sproul, our new Forest Health and Fire Resources Program Assistant, at the 2021 S-130 Field Day which brings together volunteer departments from across the region for firefighters to refresh their training on wildland fire basics. 

Forest Health and Fire Resources Program

Fostering Resilience Through Collaboration

Trees Foundation’s Forest Health and Fire Resources program is actively engaged in multiple projects aimed at enhancing environmental resilience and fostering community collaboration thanks to funding from Humboldt County Resource Conservation District, the State Coastal Conservancy, Humboldt County Natural Resources Planning, and the North Coast Resource Partnership.

Mail Ridge Project

Creating a Fire-Resilient Landscape

We are proud to be part of a collaborative team working on a CAL FIRE Forest Health application for the Mail Ridge project. The Mail Ridge project encompasses a proposed 54-mile shaded fuel break, stretching from Founders Grove near Weott to Highway 101 near Leggett. This project aims to protect communities from wildfires by creating a defensible buffer where fire crews can engage with wildfire threats. It also promotes the use of prescribed and cultural fire, benefitting forest health and Indigenous revitalization.

Chipper Days and Defensible Space

A Community Endeavor

Our participation in the Humboldt County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Phase V Implementation Program, led by the County of Humboldt, focuses on community engagement. The Chipper Days project has been a success, with 24 completed chipper days and approaching 5,000 cubic yards chipped. This free program serves to reduce fuel loads, encourage the maintenance of defensible space and increase the fire resilience of our communities. Additionally, the Defensible Space project provides free fuels reduction work around homes for elderly, low-income and disabled residents. Trees Foundation has been focused on outreach to the community, the development of candidates for assistance and providing home risk assessments to project participants.

Chipper Days clearing in Shelter Cove
Photo by Jonathan Lehman

Southern Humboldt Community Park Project

A Vision of Resilience

In collaboration with partners like Native Health in Native Hands, Eel River Wailaki, and Institute for Sustainable Forestry, we’re providing technical assistance for the Southern Humboldt Community Park Project. This initiative seeks to embrace fire-resilient land stewardship practices, including cultural fire and native nursery projects, all while educating the community on native plants and their traditional uses.

Avian Nest Surveys on Red Mountain

Protecting Wildlife and Sharing Ecological Knowledge

Kyle Keegan, our dedicated Ecological Restorationist, recently completed avian nest surveys on the Northern Red Mountain Forest Health Improvement Project in northern Mendocino County.

Kyle focused on locating and protecting breeding birds within areas undergoing forest restoration and fuels treatments. This effort protected a total of 18 nests across 14 different species. Kyle also documented essential ecological observations and provided technical assistance to project crews.

Our Commitment

These initiatives underline Trees Foundation’s commitment to collaboration, building community resilience, and promoting responsible land stewardship. We look forward to continuing our journey of environmental stewardship, interconnectedness, and resilience across California’s North Coast.

For more information or to get involved, please reach out to Damien Roomets at [email protected]