From Executive Director Catherine Martineau
As we share this report with you in March 2021, we mark a full year since COVID-19 upended all of our lives and put our resilience to the test like never before. This milestone creates many emotions in me. In the context of Canopy's work, however, overwhelmingly I feel a sense of gratitude.
I am grateful to Canopy’s dedicated Board, for their tireless efforts to support Canopy's staff and programs amid uncertainty. I am grateful to our wonderful staff who deployed treasures of resourcefulness and creativity, serving the community in new ways and finding opportunities to bring people together from afar. And I am profoundly grateful to you, our steadfast community of volunteers, donors, partners, and friends, without whom this work would not be possible.
Your enduring partnership kept community trees thriving, and connected people with the healing power of nature outside their doorstep. I cannot thank you enough.
Canopy’s report this year is fully digital—another way we’re adapting to changing times! As you explore what we accomplished together, I leave you with words I often turn to for inspiration, from Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai: "When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and the seeds of hope."
Thank you, from my heart, for working alongside us to plant seeds of peace and hope this year. May their roots grow strong and their branches provide shade for many decades to come.
From Board Chair Kammy Lo
For me, 2020 underscored the urgency of Canopy’s mission. As we sheltered at home, the trees outside our doorstep became a key connection to the outside world. Amid a devastating global pandemic and ongoing climate crisis, neighborhood greenspace—or the lack of it—emerged as an important factor in communities’ health, wellbeing, and resilience.
If 2020 was a year of reckoning and rapid adaptation, 2021 is a year for us to reflect, consolidate and deepen our learning, and to chart a bold course that meets today’s new challenges.
From January to June 2021, the Canopy Board is engaging in “Listen and Learn” sessions at each monthly board meeting to further ongoing conversations. We hope to start from a place of curiosity, listen actively, ask questions, seek understanding, explore biases, and be ready to be transformed by what we learn. Our focus will be on three interconnected themes:
- Advancing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI)
- Building community resilience
- Contributing to a nature-based climate solution
Through dialogue with guest speakers, with each other, and with staff, the Board will deeply reflect on Canopy’s guiding compass and address key questions about the ways we work together to build a greener, more just future alongside our communities.
Throughout this journey, we look forward to sharing our learnings and inviting you into the conversation. We are excited to imagine a brighter future, and Canopy’s role in it, together with the community that we love and serve. Thank you so much for your partnership!
539 community trees planted
"Popcorn plantings" with households and small groups allowed us to continue planting new community trees. Each Canopy tree is planted with careful attention to site factors, species selection, and follow-up care.
2,400 trees tended & surveyed
Caring for trees when they're young supports healthier, longer-lived trees and a thriving urban forest for the future.
27 youth leaders employed as Teen Urban Foresters
Canopy Teen Urban Foresters ("TUFs") are paid high school interns who green local neighborhoods, hone their leadership skills, and advocate for trees in their community. The program went partly remote during COVID, with students taking on remote research and outreach projects, in addition to limited outdoor field work.
2,600+ students engaged across 15 schools (K-12)
Whether in-person (pre-pandemic) or virtually, Canopy found ways to help students discover, explore, and enjoy the trees around them. In addition to students served directly, Canopy's distance learning curricula was shared beyond the Midpeninsula through local, state, and national environmental education networks.
38 Community Forestry School graduates
This diverse cohort hailing from 12 different cities and myriad backgrounds came together for 8 weeks of virtual classes and outdoor field experience. Together, they learned about trees, urban forests, and how to champion neighborhood nature in their own community.
200,000 website visitors
As life went digital, visits to Canopy's online resources increased 35% in 2020 compared to 2019. People most often stopped by to learn about the benefits of trees, access webinars and tree walks, and explore tree species on Canopy's tree library.
1,250 volunteers, 450 donors and funders, and dozens of community partners making it happen
It takes a village to grow the urban forest. Thank you so much for being part of our community!
COVID-19 shaped every Canopy program in 2020
When COVID hit in spring 2020, Canopy halted all in-person programs. After carefully studying and monitoring public health guidelines, program staff slowly resumed limited outdoor field work—in small teams and with robust safety protocols.
"We're fortunate that tree planting and care are outdoor activities," shares Tree Program Director Elise Willis. "Staff and volunteers who felt comfortable were able to work safely outside on their own, in household groups, or with careful masking and social distancing. We're grateful to continue caring for community trees, not to mention give people a chance to spend much-needed time outdoors."
Residents and partners worked to reforest Belle Haven and North Fair Oaks
A key part of Canopy's mission is working towards "tree equity" by partnering with communities where tree cover is sparse. This past year, Canopy partnered with residents in two new areas to green their communities: Belle Haven in Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks near Redwood City.
"These areas have been shaped by a history of redlining and other racist patterns of housing and development," shared Maya Briones, Canopy Community Forestry Manager. "Low tree cover today is part of this legacy, and it has a real impact on the environment and daily life for residents in these neighborhoods."
Maya has been working with community groups in both areas to offer residents free trees through a grant from CalFire and funding from San Mateo County. Spring plantings were postponed due to COVID, but Maya used "popcorn plantings" in the fall to plant 19 new trees in Belle Haven and 22 trees in North Fair Oaks, with more planting dates to come.
Many residents were thrilled to receive new trees. "Many people are excited and surprised that a program like Canopy's exists for them," shares Maya, "They can't believe that we're providing this service for free." But other residents are hesitant, or don't have the freedom to plant a tree even if they want to. "As much as these areas need tree cover, there are a lot of barriers to getting trees in the ground," confirms Maya. "Not all homes have a suitable site, especially when there's no sidewalk or park strip. Some renters are afraid to ask their landlords or encounter resistance when they do. Or people are worried that the tree will cost too much to maintain." Because of the barriers, says Maya, every tree feels like a win. "When we are able to plant and the resident loves their tree," she says, "it's super gratifying."
High school volunteer Gabe Ancajas joined Canopy plantings in North Fair Oaks in September 2020. Here's how he tells the story of Canopy plantings in this area. Thank you, Gabe! (4-minute video)
A new mapping tool helped identify where trees can bring the most benefit
Identifying suitable planting sites for a neighborhood tree planting takes time and resources, especially when Canopy begins work in a new area.
This fall, Canopy worked with students at Stanford Future Bay Initiative and other partners to develop a hyper-local mapping tool that evaluates individual parcels for their tree planting potential. The tool uses local government data to evaluate factors like plantable area, heat index, amount of foot traffic, and existing greenery. Based on six different data inputs, the tool gives each parcel a tree planting score. The Canopy team then uses these scores to help decide where to focus on-the-ground canvassing and outreach efforts.
"I hope that this mapping tool has significant impact not only with Canopy here on the Midpeninsula but also with other nonprofits doing similar work...With growing attention on the need for trees in neighborhoods, there's a lot of momentum for tools like this. By coming together, we can make the world a more forested, beautiful place." - Jena Louie, Stanford Future Bay Initiative graduate student
Great Oak Count volunteers supported native ecology through grassroots science
Oak trees are a cornerstone of local ecosystems, but their numbers have declined. Once dominant in over 80% of the Midpeninsula's valley floor, they now account for just 4% of local urban forests. Canopy’s Great Oak Count is a multi-year citizen science project to protect and grow native oak populations by surveying oaks in Palo Alto, collecting data about their size and location, and educating homeowners about the value and care of native oaks.
Great Oak Count volunteer trainings and tree surveys paused in 2020 when the pandemic hit. But with the help of volunteer leaders, Canopy found ways to safely resume surveying. Volunteers mapped 913 oaks and completed the Barron Park neighborhood in Palo Alto. Once complete, the survey will inform efforts to plant new oaks where they can have the most impact, supporting biodiversity and creating more climate-resilient neighborhoods.
"Native oaks are a legacy to care for and pass on, so it's important to share oak tree care tips with residents. We also want to see how the native oak population has changed over the last 20 years and determine where planting new oaks can have the greatest benefit for local ecology, wildlife, and people." - Elise Willis, Canopy Tree Programs Director
Nature-based lessons met students where they were (at home!)
Canopy’s K-12 education programs are all about nurturing kids' curiosity and connection to nature, especially in their own community. While the pandemic halted in-person lessons, Canopy's Environmental Education Manager, Vanessa Wyns, knew she could still give kids moments of fun and relaxation by helping them explore the natural world.
Vanessa got to work creating bilingual distance learning curriculum, offering lesson kits for teachers and resources for parents. In the fall, Vanessa also delivered live virtual lessons in English and Spanish. One priority for Vanessa was ensuring lessons were culturally relevant for diverse student body.
“Cultural relevance in lesson material should always be prioritized, whether its choosing Latinx familiar foods like pozole and tamarind in the "Tree to Table" / "De árbol a antojito" lesson or representing students of Latinx, Black, Pacific Islander, and other non-white communities in lesson questions and sample student names and images. An inclusive learning environment is more than just one where everyone is heard; it's one where everyone is represented." - Vanessa Wyns, Canopy Environmental Education Manager
The lessons prompted enthusiasm from students and teachers alike. After requests for return visits, Vanessa is crafting follow-up lessons that build on what the students have learned and incorporate specific trees on each school campus.
“My students absolutely loved connecting what they have learned in class about trees to the real world around them. The second graders got to grab tree pieces from outside and the fourth graders explored spices and herbs. They loved it!” - Casey Kuhlow, 3rd Grade Teacher at Theuerkauf Elementary in Mountain View
Time among trees helped with hard times
Nature is a great healer. The power of trees to relieve our minds and refresh our spirits is not only felt intuitively; it's also well-documented by research. Here at Canopy, we naturally turned to community trees as a much-needed source of renewal during a difficult year, and it's been our goal to help our community find solace, too. Here are a few projects your partnership made possible in 2020:
- Interactive Tree Walk Guides - with in-person arborist-led walks suspended, Canopy's team focused on bringing our classic tree walk routes into the digital age. Peak behind the scenes with intern Veronica Weber, who helped launch the project.
- Community Wishing Trees - Trees are a powerful symbol of hope, life, and resilience. Canopy and partners installed 8 wishing trees throughout East Palo Alto and Palo Alto to provide encouragement and give voice to community hopes.
- Tree Wellness Walks and Resources - from breathing with the trees to taking a virtually led wellness walk at Bol Park or Rengstorff Park, pausing to be with nearby nature is a simple way to care for your body, mind, and spirit.
- Exploring trees and art through a virtual tour of the Palo Alto Art Center's powerful Rooted exhibit.
Community Forestry School students championed trees and forged community ties
Launched in 2018, Canopy’s Community Forestry School is an 8-week course that equips community members with skills and knowledge to champion trees in their own neighborhoods and cities. This year, the series combined virtual class sessions with socially distanced outdoor field work.
“After attending this Community Forester program, I feel that I am in a position to truly affect the growth and the health of our urban forest. The logical progression from basic knowledge to hands-on application to continued action seems to be a grand approach to helping our community grow in the right direction. I am excited about what I will be able to accomplish because of this course!” - 2020 Community Forestry School Graduate
The new cohort included 37 active students of all ages, plus Canopy’s Teen Urban Foresters. Through a mix of guest speakers, group discussion, staff instructors, and hands-on field work, students covered a wide range of community forestry topics, including tree biology and identification, species selection, site assessment, tree care and pruning, and urban forest advocacy.
“Community involvement is central to Canopy’s mission and work, so it was important to find new ways to bring people together this past year," shares Canopy Education Director Natalie Brubaker. "I enjoyed building a mini community with our CFS students and seeing how much more invested they were in our work through that feeling of connectedness.”
“I love trees and want others to love them too. With this class I now have strong science based reasons to support my love for them. If I need help I now have a network of like minded souls to help me!” - 2020 Community Forestry School Graduate
"More Trees Please" webinar series offered tools for practitioners
In addition to equipping local residents, your support provides tools for decision-makers across the Bay Area whose day-to-day work shapes the fabric of our cities.
In summer 2020, Canopy launched the "More Trees Please!" webinar series. Over the course of 3 sessions, more than 800 people participated, most of them practitioners like city planners and landscape architects.
Teen Urban Foresters made the case for "tree equity"
In summer 2020, Canopy's Teen Urban Foresters delved deeper into Canopy's advocacy work through a project focused on the "green gap"—the pattern of disparity in which low-income and minority communities consistently have less tree cover and green space than wealthier and predominantly white communities. Addressing the green gap locally is a key part of Canopy's work.
The TUFs tackled the topic this past summer by researching and crafting a presentation that outlines why the green gap matters, what can be done about it, and how local residents and leaders can help create "tree equity." The TUFs presented their findings to East Palo Alto's Planning & Transportation Commission, urging the city to invest in its urban forest.
"All of us understand the benefits of trees and we understand how inequality of trees can affect some communities. It's now our chance to fix this environmental, economic, and social issue...We can build a stronger community where more people are aware of the problem and willing to care about their environment." - Jonathan Villanueva, Canopy TUF since 2018