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Drive A Car. Plant A Tree.

— Fausto Palafox owns a plant nursery in the leafy well-heeled San Diego district of Mission Hills. And he’s trying to create a rich urban forest in all parts of the city through an organization called the San Diego Urban Tree Club.

Their motto: Drive a car? Plant a tree every year.

“That’ll help offset your carbon footprint,” said Palafox.

The San Diego urban forest leaves a lot to be desired. Drew Potocki, an arborist with the city of San Diego, said a community with San Diego’s street mileage should have 500,000 trees along its public rights of way. It only has 210,000. Palafox said fires and development patterns have wiped out a huge number of trees in recent years.

“A study done in 2003 said, since 1985, San Diego had lost 26 percent of its forest canopy,” he said. “So that’s a lot of trees we have to replenish.”

There are not many tree species native to San Diego’s sage-scrub habitat. But Palafox says a city needs an urban forest to provide beauty, serenity and shade. Lots of exotic trees do well in San Diego’s Mediterranean climate. And to those who say trees consume lots of our water, Palafox says the opposite is true because a tree’s root system acts like a mini reservoir.

“Trees trap water that would otherwise go into the storm drains,” he said. “If you took a hundred trees that are up to full size, they collect up to 200,000 gallons of water per year that will not leave watershed.”

Speaking of the carbon footprint, Palafox added that one hundred trees collect five tons of carbon dioxide per year. Fausto's other credentials include being a member of the California Urban Forestry Council.

So… what is the San Diego Urban Tree Club doing to add to our collection of flora? They’re just getting started. Palafox said the club is basically three volunteers (including him) who are trying to raise money for education and tree planting. They hope to copy the success of LA’s Tree People organization, founded about 30 years ago.

Today a patchwork of groups, most notably the Urban Corps, applies for grants to fund the planting of trees in San Diego. Palafox hopes his tree club will become an umbrella group that will better organize the cultivation of an urban forest. Until then, it’ll be hard to see the forest or the trees.

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