Friends of the Urban Forest started with five men: George Williams, Brian Fewer (who had recently retired as San Francisco’s superintendent of trees), Keith Davey, Jack Spring, and Fred Smith. After the City and County of San Francisco cut funding to urban forestry in the late 1970’s, they decided to take matters into their own hands. With some leftover funding from city grant money, George Williams hired Michelle Anderson to “get something going” by organizing neighborhoods to plant and care for their own trees.

Group planting a tree

Our first planting, March 7, 1981 on Sanchez Street in Noe Valley.

Ms. Anderson asked Isabel Wade, the Urban Forestry Consultant for the California Department of Forestry at the time, to join the five original founders and form a dedicated board. They immediately voted for officers and elected Ms. Wade as the first board president.

The newly formed organization reached out to community members to organize their neighborhoods and start planting trees. FUF’s first tree planting took place on March 7, 1981 – California’s Arbor Day – in Noe Valley. Relying entirely on volunteers, FUF planted approximately 50 trees that day in empty street-tree-basins.  A Glossy Privet (Ligustrum lucidum) at 3909 24th Street was the first one planted. Celebrity Eddie Albert participated, as well as State Senator Milton Marks, Jr. whose son, Milton Marks III, later became FUF’s executive director.

Mayor Dianne Feinstein August 5, 1986

Surrounded by board members of Friends of the Urban Forest and city officials, Mayor Dianne Feinstein signs the San Francisco Urban Forestry Ordinance, August 5, 1986.

Shortly thereafter, neighborhoods across the city began to organize their own tree-planting events with FUF’s leadership and support. FUF hired Ruth Gravanis as its first executive director.

Like the trees it planted, FUF grew. The first edition of FUF’s guide to street-tree- planting and care, “Trees for San Francisco,” won the Communications Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1985. In the early nineties, FUF developed a dedicated Tree Care program led by an ISA-certified arborist. In 1995, FUF launched its Youth Tree Care program (now called Green Teens), one of the nation’s few paid urban forestry vocational skills training programs. By 1996, FUF had planted over 20,000 trees.

Before and after images show a neighborhood gaining trees

Street trees have transformed the intersection of Fell and Buchanan streets. Images: (top) San Francisco Public Library, (bottom) Hoodline.com

Today, FUF is a thriving nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing San Francisco’s urban forest, building community, and taking a local leadership role in mitigating global environmental problems through the simple act of planting trees. FUF has planted more than 50,000 trees, has a strong partnership with the City and County of San Francisco, is well loved among San Franciscans, and has an outstanding reputation among urban-forestry organizations nationwide.