Photography by Jeff Hunt
Friends of the Urban Forest exists on the premise that there are "no trees in San Francisco." That of course isn't the literal truth. But we'll get to that.
In Part 1 of our episode on FUF, we sit down with Tree Planting Program Manager Zeima Kassahun and Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier to chat about the non-profit's 42-year history of making San Francisco greener. We learn a little about Zeima and Brian's lives, where they're from, how they ended up moving to The City, and what brought them to FUF.
Then Brian and Zeima talk about the history of Friends of the Urban Forest. This conversation includes the fact that, upon colonization of San Francisco, there were very few trees, most of which were located in and around the no-longer-existent Mission Bay. We work our way up through industrialization, urbanization, and the advent of car culture to set the stage for what a group of neighbors and friends were up against when they founded FUF in 1981.
In Part 2, Brian and Zeima start off with a discussion of "green gentrification" and how, being a community-based non-profit that plants trees, FUF aims to mitigate that. We hear all about how plantings work, starting with FUF's community engagement team identifying areas delineated by grants and specifically targeting disadvantaged parts of The City. Another criteria is simply areas that look like they could use trees. The team walks block to block, collecting addresses so that FUF can then send postcards to nearby residents. They do a site assessment, species consultations with residents, purchase trees, and choose a spot to host volunteers on planting days. We saw the last parts of this process on May 6 when Jeff attended a planting in Lower Nob Hill.
FUF averages 18 plantings a year, putting 20–45 trees per planting into the ground. They planted around 1,120 trees last year, and they maintain 2,000+ trees annually from previous plantings. Maintenance lasts 3–5 years, depending on species. In its 40-plus years, FUF has planted around 65,000 trees, which is about half of all street trees in San Francisco.
We discuss the various ways that "trees are essential infrastructure," from providing lower temperatures during extreme heat events to carbon dioxide offsetting and more. This past year, FUF planted 100 more trees than The City lost in total, and that was before this winter's storms, which brought the highest amount of precipitation in at least the last decade (probably longer). Harsh winds took down trees in soil oversaturated from all that rain over a relatively short period of time. This all makes FUF's work that much more important, now perhaps more than ever.
Action items Friends of the Urban Forest would like you to take include:
We recorded this podcast in April 2023 at the FUF office in the Presidio.