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An Oakland urban forester’s work reveals the plight of the city’s namesake

By Andres Picon, San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 2021

“In the 170 years since Oakland’s founding, coast live oaks, the city’s namesake trees, have been felled to clear space for roads, homes and buildings. Vast oak forests once stretched from Lake Merritt to San Francisco Bay, but today, there are only about 4,600 oaks on Oakland streets and landscaped parks, said David Moore, Oakland’s senior tree supervisor.

“[Urban forester Tim Vendlinski represents] a vigilante approach to urban forestry — a form of guerrilla gardening that is often at odds with the policies and standards of the city of Oakland’s tree supervisors.

“Vendlinski typically plants [oaks] in his backyard nursery … Occasionally, his guerrilla gardening draws criticism from Moore and the city, who worry that oaks planted on streets could create problems down the line.

“Oakland’s master street tree list, the list of trees approved to be planted on city sidewalks and medians, includes 59 tree species. Of those, eight are oaks. Only four of the trees on the list are native to Oakland, Vendlinski said, calling the list ‘horrific.’

“Oak advocates such as Vendlinski and Erica Spotswood, the lead scientist for the Urban Nature Lab at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, say that long-term considerations ought to include the oaks, not condemn them.

“Through a Cal Fire grant awarded in 2018, the city is developing its first-ever urban forest master plan, a long-term and wide-reaching effort that will improve the city’s tree distribution based on the city’s needs and conditions.

“While that’s happening, oak advocates say, city and state leaders could do more to protect the trees and safeguard their status as a keystone species throughout California.

“Broader and more impactful initiatives could start at the state level. Lawmakers could establish uniform statewide oak protections, which do not currently exist, and embrace a no-net-loss standard for California oaks, which would shore up oak populations across the state, said Angela Moskow, an information network manager with California Oaks, a project of the California Wildlife Foundation.”

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