History

For 40 years TreePeople has supported the people of Los Angeles County to grow the urban forest.

The history of our organization tells a powerful story of how every individual can plant the seeds of a more livable future, by joining our journey to sustainability – and by inspiring and empowering others to get involved, too.

Discover how TreePeople has developed into a leader in:

  • Environmental education
  • Citizen forestry
  • Sustainable solutions to urban ecosystem problems

Our volunteers, partners and donors have made all this possible…
 
1950-1970

In the early 1950s, scientists report significant numbers of trees dying in the mountain forests surrounding Los Angeles. Eventually, they determine one of the main causes: the smog creeping up from the growing city of Los Angeles below.

1970

Fifteen-year-old Andy Lipkis gets inspired to repair the smog damage in the San Bernardino Mountains, where he attends summer camp. He collaborates with two dozen fellow campers to transform a parking lot into a meadow of smog-tolerant trees. Andy has found his personal calling in life.

1973

Seventeen-year-old Andy Lipkis initiates a second planting project. His goal: to obtain 20,000 sugar-pine seedlings from the California Department of Forestry to be planted at local summer camps.

The camps agree to participate, but a state law prohibits the forestry department from giving away the trees, and Andy lacks the funds to buy them. Undeterred, he embarks on a campaign – with help from the media – to win support for the project.

Andy raises $10,000, enough to purchase 8,000 seedlings and planting supplies. Sears, Potlatch and American Motors are the first major contributors, and many children from L.A. send in donations of 50 cents or one dollar. The forestry department eventually donates another 8,000 trees.

Andy and some of his family members start a nonprofit organization to manage the funds. They call it the California Conservation Project, but it’ll later evolve into TreePeople. Our journey has begun!

1974

In our second year, we launch a project to pot 10,000 trees during the week of Arbor Day. Agencies involved include: the California Division of Forestry, California Air National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, Los Angeles Urban Forest Council, L.A. Bicentennial Committee, Southern California Edison, Camp JCA, ACTION (the federal domestic volunteer agency) and numerous civic groups and schools.

The public unofficially renames us "the tree people." TreePeople News, our first newsletter, is published in December, announcing our new Tree Dedication program.

1975

We receive our first grant – $5,000 – from ACTION (the federal domestic volunteer agency).

1976

The city of L.A.’s Department of Recreation and Parks Department grants us a conditional-use permit of its Mountain Fire Station 108 so we can develop a small-scale nursery to grow seedlings. The Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) donates a ‘50s vintage fuel truck, which becomes our water truck.

 

 

1977

The Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) works with us to create the Growing Concern community tree-planting program. In November, we officially take over the Mountain Fire Station grounds as our headquarters; the site becomes known as Coldwater Canyon Park. By the end of this fourth year, we have planted 50,000 trees!

1978

Severe rains and local flooding give us our first experience mobilizing volunteers for disaster relief. As a result, our headquarters gets designated L.A.’s Emergency Resource Center.

The California Department of Education awards us our first environmental education grant, enabling us to reach out to 15,000 schoolchildren by year’s end. In addition to environmental education, our programs now include tree plantings, tours of our park and facilities, community seminars, the Little Treehouse summer camp and overnight mountain Eco-tours.

We finish the year with a planting tally of 80,000 trees – 5,000 of them in urban areas. Our park’s nursery houses 10,000 seedlings.

And, it’s official: our name formally changes from the California Conservation Project, Inc. to TreePeople, Inc.

1979

We launch our membership program, offering the public another way to get involved with our work.

In March, we close the Marina Freeway for a Tree Run, sponsored by Louisiana Pacific and KZLA. The closure, a first for an L.A. freeway, attracts 5,000 runners and makes California transportation history by requiring special legislation in Culver City, Los Angeles County and the California State Legislature.

1980

Our Forestry Team launches with a tree planting involving Xerox Corporation employees who seek to contribute to a worthwhile civic-improvement project.

In February, 3,000 of our volunteers assist local homeowners during a massive emergency-relief effort mobilized in response to excessive rains, flooding and mudslides. Andy Lipkis appears on The Tonight Show, and Johnny Carson makes a personal contribution to replace tools lost during the relief work.

On the tenth anniversary of Earth Day, 2,000 people attend a celebration at our headquarters.

But the year brings an urgent call to action as well. The President's Council on Environmental Quality releases the Global 2000 ("Doomsday") Report, which predicts planetary devastation by the end of the century unless the world can band together to take significant action.

1981

The City of Los Angeles Planning Department drafts an Air Quality Management Plan that calls for the planting of a million trees to help comply with the air-quality standards of the 1970 Clean Air Act. The city estimates it will take twenty years to plant the trees, at a cost of $200 million.

Energized by our recent successes, we respond to this forecast by launching the city’s first Million Tree Campaign. Our goal: to plant one million trees in Los Angeles before the opening of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

1982

The American Forestry Association invites Andy Lipkis to deliver a presentation at their Second National Urban Forestry Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Andy inspires the attendees with a twelve-minute presentation on the power of community involvement. 

1983

We publish A Planters' Guide to the Urban Forest, a book designed to help community groups and individuals plan and carry out tree plantings.

The Los Angeles Times Home Magazine devotes an entire edition to our Million Tree Campaign, including a pictorial guide to trees suitable for planting around the home. TreePeople is also featured in Fortune and Omni magazines. 

1984

TreePeople embarks on an effort to save some of the hundreds of thousands of surplus bare-root fruit trees that end up being burned each year after the selling season. Wholesale growers donate almost 26,000 trees, which we prune, bag and distribute to low-income families and Indian reservations in Southern California.

We plant our millionth tree – an apricot – in the San Fernando Valley, four days before the lighting of the Olympic torch. To celebrate, staff and volunteers head to the mountains to plant another 7,000 seedlings in a single day.

This year we also take on our largest urban planting to date, a 1.5-mile stretch of the Long Beach Freeway.

Andy Lipkis and his wife, Katie, travel abroad, where their presentations on community forestry help launch programs in London and Ireland. 

1985

Ronald Reagan gives the Presidential Voluntary Action Award to GTE Corporation for their assistance during our Million Tree Campaign.

TreePeople’s contributing membership grows to 1,500 people. We kick off a direct-mail campaign to continue to grow our membership base. 

1986

TreePeople volunteers fly to Africa with 6,000 surplus bare-root fruit trees to be distributed to communities in need. Over the next three years, we distribute 1,200 additional trees in Africa with the cooperation of humanitarian assistance groups, indigenous organizations and government agencies.

Our Citizen Forester training program launches to educate and support community members to organize their own tree planting and tree care events. The program reflects our new emphasis on making sure that the trees we plant get the regular maintenance they need to thrive.

Andy and Katie Lipkis receive a standing ovation for their presentation on the Million Tree Campaign at the American Forestry Association’s Third National Urban Forestry Conference in Orlando, Florida.

1987

Susan Becker, director of our Africa Fruit Tree project, visits all fourteen host villages to find tree survival rates between 80 and 90 percent.

To help L.A. prepare for mandatory citywide recycling within three years, we offer an Environmental Leadership program and develop a recycling component for our curriculum. During the school year that follows, 60,000 children – double the number stated in our contract with the city – participate in the program.

TreePeople members now number 10,000.

Andy and Katie Lipkis speak in Australia to promote the country’s Target: 200 Million Trees campaign – an effort inspired by our Million Tree Campaign. (A year later, the target is reached one month before the deadline.) 

1988

The New York Times runs a story on TreePeople’s work, highlighting our fruit tree distribution efforts and educational programs. 

1989

Our organization enters a new era of professionalism with the addition of a managing director to guide our staff, which jumps from fifteen in January to thirty-one in December.

We’re recognized by the United Nations and covered by Charles Kuralt's “Sunday Morning,” the global telecast “Our Common Future” and an article in Time magazine.

TreePeople holds a workshop in Tanzania on Home Economics and Horticulture for twenty-six trainees. They return to their communities as teachers, prepared to establish and run self-sufficient fruit tree projects. 

1990

TreePeople honors the birth and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with our largest-ever urban planting. Volunteers plant 500 trees – 300 in one day! – along a seven-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard.

In the first five months of the year, we assist or manage 30 tree plantings, putting more than 18,000 trees in the ground. Over 100 graduates of Citizen Forester training now actively organize plantings. Our Environmental Leadership program reaches 107,000 schoolchildren by year’s end.

The White House invites input from TreePeople in the development of the National Tree Trust.

Andy and Katie Lipkis publish The Simple Act of Planting a Tree. Hundreds of reviews in newspapers and magazines bring Citizen Forestry into the spotlight, as the book inspires the formation of dozens of “releaf” groups nationwide.

1991

President George H.W. Bush presents us with a Daily Points of Light Award, America’s highest honor for volunteerism. TreePeople becomes the nation’s 440th Point of Light.

1992-1996

The City of Los Angeles turns to us to spearhead the development of its Urban Forest Task Force and to lead the effort to bring millions of dollars to community groups in the aftermath of 1992’s civil unrest.

Our Campus Forestry program launches, along with the next generation of our Fruit Tree program. We continue to work with city agencies to plant trees in the mountains and educate youth on environmental issues, ranging from waste reduction and recycling to the prevention of stormwater pollution. 

1997

We convince the Los Angeles Unified School District to designate a portion of Proposition BB funds for greening projects instead of campus repaving.

Our Campus Forestry program plants trees at all interested schools in order to shade playgrounds, buildings and air-conditioning units. The plan involves replacing 20 million square feet of asphalt with trees to lower energy costs, reduce students’ exposure to ultraviolet light and engage students in the improvement of their campuses. 

1998

Andy Lipkis is honored as Founder of the Year at National Philanthropy Day.

1999

Second Nature: Adapting L.A.’s Landscape for Sustainable Living, is published by TreePeople with a foreword by Paul Hawken. 

2000

We partner with volunteers and local land management agencies to replant the fire-damaged Angeles National Forest as part of Tu’B’Shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day.

We also partner with the Cool Schools program – run by the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power – to help green 400 LAUSD campuses by replacing asphalt with trees and grass.

2001

Andy Lipkis and Dorothy Green share the honor of receiving the Donald Hagman Award from the Southern California Association of Governments Advisory Council, presented to individuals who make outstanding contributions to improve the quality of life in our region.

The Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council honors TreePeople with its 2001 President’s Award. The council calls us the outstanding nonprofit in the watershed and acknowledges our T.R.E.E.S. Project for its leadership in developing a sustainable watershed management plan for Sun Valley.

2002

TreePeople is among only 15 agencies worldwide to be honored by the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Committee, receiving the Spirit of the Land Environmental Education Award. We also receive the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board award for Water Quality Conservation for advancing an integrated approach to urban watershed management. 

2003

Our Sun Valley Watershed Project is highlighted in the United Nations publication State of the World’s Forests 2003 as an example of partnering to create a sustainable water supply.

We break ground on our new Center for Community Forestry, a state-of-the-art environmental education campus and gathering place for local, national and international action to create healthy, sustainable cities.

Following the devastating 2003 Southern California wildfires, Andy works with the California Resources Agency, UCLA and others to organize an unprecedented conference for the state’s top fire ecologists, scientists and citizen foresters to prevent future wildfire damage. 

2004

Construction finishes on the TreePeople Conference Center, the first anchor element in our Center for Community Forestry. The completion of the Conference Center fulfills a long-held vision of Andy Lipkis to create an inspiring and politically neutral gathering place to nurture local, statewide, national and international leadership in sustainability.

2006

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces the Million Trees LA initiative, an effort to plant one million trees in the city over the next few years. TreePeople commits to organize the planting of 300,000 trees in parklands to help fulfill the Mayor’s vision.

Working in partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks, our initial efforts focus on the underserved areas of the L.A. Harbor and Northeast San Fernando Valley. The project also includes restoring fire-damaged areas of Griffith Park. 

2007

We form our Natural Urban Systems Group to continue the work of our earlier T.R.E.E.S. project. The group promotes the integration of trees, people and technology to solve urban ecosystems problems.

Andy Lipkis serves as a special advisor to the Mayor of Los Angeles’s climate change study.

Leonardo DiCaprio features Andy in The 11th Hour, a documentary film exploring the environmental crises caused by human actions and their impact on the planet. TreePeople is also recognized in Edens Lost & Found, a nationally broadcast PBS program celebrating the sustainability work of four U.S. cities.

2008

June brings news of a major gift from The Boeing Company: a $1 million grant to launch our comprehensive California Wildfire Restoration initiative. In October, the Walt Disney Company further boosts the initiative with a grant of $1.5 million.

In October, our Center for Community Forestry officially opens at our headquarters in Coldwater Canyon Park. Through interactive exhibits, sustainable design features and educational programs, the center demonstrates the benefits of bringing the functions of a natural forest to the city. The project supports our new long-range vision to create a Functioning Community Forest in every neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Also in October, our new Conference Center becomes LEED® certified with a Platinum rating – the highest – for its sustainable features.

This year also sees our Fruit Tree giveaway expand from 3,000 to 9,000. And we start a Corporate Forestry program to support L.A. businesses to carry out tree plantings and tree care events in local parks and woodlands. 

Currently

Our journey toward environmental sustainability continues!

In the year ahead, we’ll be working to apply our Functioning Community Forest model in neighborhoods throughout L.A. We’ll also continue to expand our Fruit Tree program to bring the health-giving effects of produce to more people in need.

In addition, our California Wildfire Restoration initiative is gearing up. During the next five years, we’ll train and support over 7,500 volunteers to restore more than 10,000 fire-damaged acres, targeting forest and woodland areas that have burned so intensely that they are unlikely to recover on their own.