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Folks for Oaks

March 30, 2016

This is the story of how one community, known as the City of Elk Grove Rural Community, is trying to re-introduce native valley oaks (Quercus lobata). The area was once covered with thriving valley oak woodlands, which slowly started to disappear as agriculture moved to the area. The disappearance of these woodlands was so fast that almost all of the original trees were gone by the late 1960’s. As the community grew, many new species were introduced around residential areas, but the area still does not enjoy the tree canopy it once had.

A gentleman by the name of Leo Fassler, a retired Assistant General Manager of Sacramento Municipal District (SMUD), was raised on a 250 acre farm dotted with valley oaks in the City of Elk Grove Rural Community. He spent part of his childhood playing in this valley oak woodland with his friends, but the woodland was converted to agriculture right in front of his eyes. The disappearance of these huge valley oak trees had a real impact on him.

In 1964 Leo built his house on a 4 acre property on Sheldon road; a parcel without a single tree. To date, Leo has planted 78 trees on the property including many valley oaks. He felt very strongly that re-introducing valley oaks would benefit the community and worked with another tree-enthusiast in the community, Nancy Myers, to develop a tree plan for the area. They called the plan Folks for Oaks. The plan was taken to SMUD and Sacramento Tree Foundation in early 2006. Both Leo and Nancy were deeply involved in the project, which was implemented in the spring of 2007.

The plan was marketed community-wide with help from SMUD and in its inaugural year, about 50 households signed up to receive three free valley oak trees. Since the inception of the program in 2007, every year a mailing goes out to the community to receive free valley oak trees that can be planted anywhere on the property. Annually, about 35 – 40 households sign up for the offer and many are repeat participants. As a Sacramento Tree Foundation Community Forester, I visit each home to meet with the residents and provide planting and tree care education. Two weeks after my residential visit, three valley oak trees are delivered to residents involved in the Folks for Oaks project. To date, Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD have distributed 1,400 valley oak trees through Folks for Oaks, and I am happy to report that the majority of them are doing well!

I have been involved in this project since 2009 and developed a good working relationship with Folks for Oaks tree recipients. I look forward every year to meet these enthusiastic, tree-loving people to talk about their trees and learn about their dreams to plant more valley oaks in the area. As a forester, I can foresee how the City of Elk Grove Rural Community will look 15 to 20 years from now when the valley oak trees will start to have a much more profound effect on the environment. It will seem somewhat like going back in time. I only hope that we can find more people like Leo and Nancy to help us recreate the valley oak woodlands of the past so we can enjoy what we’ve been missing.

-Kuldeep Singh, Community Forester at Sacramento Tree Foundation