Street Tree Census
San Francisco was once a largely treeless landscape of grassy hills and sand dunes. Today, almost 700,000 trees grow on both public and private property. From the statuesque palms of the Embarcadero to the tall cypresses of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s urban forest is a complex system of trees, plants, wildlife, soil, air, and water within the City.
Developed in collaboration with the Department of Public Works, the Urban Forestry Council, and Friends of the Urban Forest, the Urban Forest Plan (Phase 1: Street Trees) provides a long-term vision and strategy to improve the health and sustainability of the City’s urban forest. Adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2015, the Plan identifies policies and strategies to create an expanded, healthy, and thriving street tree population for all of San Francisco.
Trees are a beloved feature of the City and a critical piece of urban infrastructure. The estimated 105,000 trees that grow along San Francisco’s streets work hard to remove pollutants from air and water, green and beautify our neighborhoods, absorb greenhouse gases, reduce stormwater runoff, improve public health, provide wildlife habitat, and enhance the quality of our daily lives. The annual benefits that street trees provide the community are estimated at millions of dollars. Unfortunately, without a comprehensive vision for the care and management of the City’s street trees, their fate is uncertain (see the side bar "Benefits of Street Trees" to learn more about why we need to protect them).
Healthy tree-lined streets are a key component of our urban forest. An estimated 105,000 trees grow along San Francisco’s streets. These trees contribute to a more walkable, livable and sustainable city. They remove pollutants from air and water. They create greener and more vibrant neighborhoods. They make streets more enjoyable to walk and shop along. Street trees connect us to nature and enhance the quality of our daily lives. The urban forest returns millions of dollars annually in benefits1. Trees perform the following valuable functions:
The Urban Forest Plan will address the following threats to the long-term health of our trees.
Small and Shrinking Tree Canopy
San Francisco has one of the smallest tree canopies of any major U.S. city.
San Francisco prides itself on being “green,” but the City’s tree canopy, measured by the amount of land covered by trees when viewed from above, is one of the smallest of any large U.S. city - less than Los Angeles (21%), Chicago (17%) and New York City (24%) - and unfortunately, it’s on the decline. New plantings are not keeping pace with tree removals and mortality, while tens of thousands of potential planting spaces remain empty. A concentrated effort to add new street trees will help stem the decline of the urban forest while bringing highly visible greening benefits to our neighborhoods.
Inadequate Maintenance Funding and Fragmented Maintenance Structure
Trees in San Francisco face a number of challenges due to historic underfunding and inadequate maintenance.
Since 2007, the urban forestry budget has decreased dramatically, bringing the average pruning cycle for City-maintained trees from 5 years to 12 years per tree. The City is transferring maintenance responsibility for tens of thousands of trees to property owners, creating an inefficient, confusing, and costly maintenance program that is compromising tree health and safety and diminishing the social and environmental benefits that street trees provide. This controversial and fragmented maintenance structure has raised concerns about the long-term health and future of the City’s street trees. Identifying stable funding sources is essential to restoring the health of our urban forest.
Harsh Growing Environment
San Francisco’s streets can be a difficult place for trees to take root and flourish.
Narrow sidewalks, compacted soil, drought, neglect, improper care, underground utilities, and vandalism make it difficult to survive and reach maturity. San Francisco’s urban forest has great potential to expand by embracing alternative methods to green our streets, buildings, and public spaces; especially where tree planting is not currently feasible. Embracing a range of greening methods on public and private property can provide significant potential to expand our urban forest.
RECOMMENDATION #1: Maximize the benefits of street trees
Street trees should be recognized for their ability to help achieve targeted environmental and public health goals. The City should identify which species perform best to maximize the environmental, economic, and social benefits of San Francisco’s trees. This information can be used by forest managers and property owners to more carefully select and plant trees, thereby maximizing the benefits most relevant to the City.
RECOMMENDATION #2: Increase the street tree population with 50,000 new trees
The Plan calls for planting 50,000 new street trees over the next 20 years: from 105,000 to 155,000. These new trees will help stem the decline of the urban forest, help create a more equitable distribution of tree canopy, and reduce greening inequities in different areas of the City. An associated funding and maintenance program is needed to carry out this expanded planting program and ensure their long-term health.
RECOMMENDATION #3: Establish & fund a citywide street tree maintenance program
Creating a citywide street tree maintenance program would require the City to get serious about establishing long-term funding solution for our trees. Privately maintained street trees generally fare worse than publicly maintained trees. The Plan recommends relieving homeowners from the responsibility of maintenance and repairing tree-related sidewalk damage by centralizing responsibility for 100 percent of San Francisco’s street trees under the Department of Public Works (DPW) through a fully funded municipal street tree program. Possible funding tools include general obligation bonds, an assessment district, parcel tax, and General Fund revenue.
RECOMMENDATION #4: Manage street trees throughout their entire life-cycle
The Plan recommends managing San Francisco’s street trees throughout their entire life-cycle be creating an interdependent urban forestry operation. By minimizing waste, reducing travel distances, and providing second-life opportunities for locally grown urban wood, San Francisco can become a model of 21st century urban natural resource management. Components of the Plan include developing a street tree nursery to grow street trees locally through a community partnership; determining a tree removal and succession plantings strategy; and creating an urban wood re-use program to create second-life products from trees removed from City streets.
Find a more detailed summary of the Plan’s primary recommendations here.
YES, WE'RE COUNTING TREES - AND THE REPORT IS READY!
The City lacks comprehensive data on San Francisco’s street trees. As part of the Urban Forest Plan, a census of 27,000 street trees will be conducted. Information on location, age, species type and condition has been collected and will be used to develop an action plan aimed at expanding and improving the health of the City’s entire street tree population. Download the Street Tree Census Report | For more information about the Street Tree Census, click here.
|Summer 2012||Existing Conditions Assessment|
|Winter 2012-13||Vision & Goals|
|Winter 2012-13||Implementation Strategy|
|Spring 2013||Draft Plan|
|June 2013||Final Plan|
|The Urban Forest Plan is expected to be completed by Summer 2013.|
Urban Forest Plan (Phase 1: Street Trees)
The Plan (adopted 2015) identifies key recommendations and comprehensive strategies for the management and maintenance of San Francisco’s street trees.
Urban Forest Plan (Phase One) Summary
Urban Forest Plan (Phase One) Full Report
In 2012, a partial Street Tree Census was conducted in the Bayview, North Beach, Outer Sunset and Western Addition neighborhoods, accounting for roughly 25 percent of the street tree population. The information collected on species and population composition, stocking levels and the value of environmental and economic benefits of street trees helped inform the Urban Forest Plan (Phase I, Street Trees),
Street Tree Financing Study
In an effort to address the City's declining urban forestry budget, the Planning Department commissioned an economic consultant, AECOM, to conduct a Street Tree Financing Study. The Study evaluates the costs associated with street tree planting and maintenance and identifies a range of potential funding strategies. The AECOM study is a starting point for a continuing dialogue on how to boost funding for trees and grow San Francisco's urban forest.
Street Tree Life-cycle Management
The Urban Forest Plan (Phase One: Street Trees) recommends managing street trees through all of their life stages. Components of a Street Tree Life-Cycle Management Program include a street tree nursery, tree removal and succession plan and urban wood re-use.
Download the Street Tree Nursery Proposal and Urban Wood Reuse Study
EveryTreeSF: Street Tree Census – underway!
We’re coming to every block in every neighborhood to map and record every San Francisco street tree for our first ever citywide street tree census. For more information on the census and how to enter our How Many Trees contest, here. >>link to census page.
Urban Forest Plan (Phases 2&3) - Stay tuned for more information!
The Planning Department is scoping future phases of the Urban Forest Plan that will address the needs of trees in parks and open spaces as well as trees on private property.
Phase 2: Trees in Parks & Open Spaces
The Urban Forest Plan’s Second Phase will address trees in the City’s parks & open spaces. Major topics to be addressed in Phase 2 include the development of succession strategies for aging trees and funding recommendations.
Phase 3: Trees on Private Property & Greening Buildings
The Third Phase of the Urban Forest Plan will consider unique issues related to trees on private property. In addition, mention should be made of the growing body of design and planning work related to urban greening on public and private buildings such as green roofs, walls and living architectural strategies.
For additional information on the Urban Forest Plan, please contact:
Department of Public Works
Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF)
San Francisco Urban Forest Plan (2006)
Previous plan created for San Francisco’s Urban Forest
San Francisco's Urban Forest (2007)
USDA Forest Service
1. Assessing Urban Forest Effects and Values: San Francisco’s Urban Forest, United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service, Northern Research Station (2007).
2. The Relationship Between Tree Canopy and Crime Rates Across an Urban–Rural Gradient in the Greater Baltimore Region, University of Vermont, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (2012). Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime?, Human-Environment Research Laboratory University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2001).
"Trees Can't Afford to Live Here" drawing by Base Design