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One man's volunteer effort to plant trees in San Francisco

As a volunteer, Charlie Starbuck has helped to plant trees by the thousands on the streets of San Francisco, a city long on charm but short on leafy green trees.

For almost 30 years, Charlie Starbuck has volunteered to plant trees all over San Francisco,
one street at a time, as a member of the nonprofit group Friends of the Urban Forest.

Paul Van Slambrouck

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Charlie Starbuck has them in just about every part of this city. Walk a block or two in virtually any neighborhood, from the concrete canyons of the financial district to the windblown avenues of the Outer Sunset and Mr. Starbuck's fingerprints are there.

It might be a Brisbane box, a bronze loquat, a primrose, or a purple leaf plum. Whatever the species of tree, chances are excellent that Starbuck helped plant it.

Not as in ordered the tree or arranged for the planting. But as in actually put his fingers in the dirt and planted it.

A soft-spoken gentleman fond of berets, Starbuck has volunteered for a citywide tree-planting program since 1981, nearly without interruption. That's almost 30 years of weekly plantings, without pay, come rain or shine.

"For Charlie to be that consistent..." says Doug Wildman, program director of San Francisco's Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), his voice trailing off as he searches for the right superlative. "Well, he's our rock." FUF ( is the nonprofit group for which Starbuck has volunteered all these years.

On a recent dewy winter morning, neighbors gather in front of a row of San Francisco homes. Staff members from FUF have already been busy positioning trees in 15-gallon pots in front of the homes, whose owners had signed up for the subsidized $75-per-tree planting.

This is a relatively small project – about 15 trees. Water and cable lines had been identified so they wouldn't be mistakenly cut. All that is left to do is dig the holes, plant the trees, and stake them.


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