Editorials

Op Images: Sacramento has a rich history of planting trees

A rainbow photographed from the top of the Park Tower Building in downtown Sacramento complemented the region’s canopy of trees in late fall colors.
A rainbow photographed from the top of the Park Tower Building in downtown Sacramento complemented the region’s canopy of trees in late fall colors. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Earlier this year, I was honored to join the board of directors for the Sacramento Tree Foundation. I’ve since learned much about the trees in our region and the positive impacts they have on our quality of life.

I’m also having fun learning about their history.

The first big tree campaign in Sacramento may have taken place in the 1870s, when civic-minded people planted California sycamores along J Street. I imagine that they are not much different from Tree Foundation volunteers of today.

People 150 years ago no doubt would have appreciated the new look. But it took decades for tree-lined streets to become the norm. It wasn’t easy to transform the city on the plains, as we were known in the mid-1800s. We’ve never changed very quickly around here, have we?

One of the early proponents was C.K. McClatchy, the editor of The Sacramento Bee and son of its founder, James McClatchy. C.K. traveled to Europe in 1911 and wrote:

“Paris is surely a very attractive, very charming city. Many minds may have many views as to what constitutes her greatest outward charm. To my notion it is her street trees.”

That trip was life-changing for him – and apparently, for many trees here at home. During his long career, he became a fierce advocate of trees, writing in 1919 about Sacramento’s “tree butchery” of elms that was taking place “for no other purpose evidently than to provide wood.”

He was known to publish front page obituaries for individual trees that had been killed by vandals or were slated to be felled for development. He celebrated President Franklin Roosevelt’s Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 for including a provision that prevented “destructive exploitations” of forest lands.

I can’t imagine Sacramento without its trees. They shade our homes, clean our air and provide natural beauty to our neighborhoods. Today, one goal of the Tree Foundation is to have the rest of the region look more like Sacramento.

The foundation has established a goal of planting 5 million more trees in the six-county region by 2025. We recently passed the 110,000 mark, so there is a long way to go.

This picture, which appeared on the front page of The Bee, captures the hope implicit in a rainbow. The colors of fall remind me of the importance of dreaming big. I’ll bet those early tree pioneers, including C.K. McClatchy, would have loved today’s skyline.

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