Move creates the largest community-driven environmental organization in Los Angeles.
The Mountains Restoration Trust (MRT), a conservation organization that oversees 3000 acres of open space in the Santa Monica Mountains is now part of TreePeople, a non-profit with a 50-year history of promoting tree planting, urban forestry stewardship, and water conservation programs.
On November 4, TreePeople announced that the non-profit organization has accepted leadership over the Calabasas-based MRT and that it will assume stewardship of MRT’s land.
“The move positions TreePeople as the largest environmental non-profit in the region and one of the largest landholders in the Santa Monica Mountains,” a press release states. “The added resources will allow TreePeople to intensify its nearly 50 years of globally recognized work to educate, advocate, protect and restore Southern California’s natural and urban ecology.”
The MRT was created in 1981 by the California Coastal Commission and the California State Coastal Conservancy, with the goal of assisting the Coastal Commission with required mitigation in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The Nature Conservancy transferred the 525-acre Murphy Ranch to MRT in 1984, the same year the land trust became a non-profit. Over the years, MRT added more acquisitions in the Cold Creek watershed. The Cold Creek Preserve is currently 2000 acres and is home to some of the Santa Monica Mountains’ rarest species and is a designated Significant Ecological Area.
The MRT also owns open space in the Malibu Creek watershed, and the 92-acre Headwaters Corner, at the junction of Old Topanga Canyon and Mulholland Highway.
In addition to land stewardship, the non-profit developed a plant nursery for native plants, the Cold Creek Docents program, and the Adopt a Stream program that includes an invasive crawfish removal program. The organization also hosts rattlesnake avoidance training classes and other community events.
MRT has experienced numerous challenges in recent years, including a devastating fire that destroyed the office and records of at the non-profit’s Calabasas office in 2016. The plant nursery and open space acreage off Mulholland burned in the 2018 Woolsey Fire. The nonprofit lost its longtime program manager and co-director Jo Kitz in 2018.
TreePeople also has a long history in the Santa Monica Mountains. The nonprofit’s headquarters are located on the 45-acre Coldwater Canyon Park on Mulholland Drive. Its goals
include promoting the planting of trees, environmental stewardship, and water conservation.
The two organizations have worked together in the past on restoration projects. According to the press release, assuming leadership of the MRT “strengthens TreePeople at a time of tremendous global demand for innovative solutions around fire resilience, urban forestry, water-security, environmental literacy, equity, and climate change.”
TreePeople spokesperson Jean-Paul Reynolds told the Messenger Mountain News that the merger just made sense. “We have collaborated on many projects and now we’ve joined resources,” he said. Reynolds stressed that all of the programs, as well as land ownership, contracts, permits, and leases will remain in place.
“Nothing changes,” Reynolds said. “It just made sense to merge and become a bigger player. It’s a win-win.”
The merger means TreePeople and MRT are now legally affiliated through a membership substitution structure, with MRT part of the TreePeople family. Land holdings of the MRT will continue to be managed as open space.
“This is the beginning of a new era for environmental protection, restoration, and education,” said Phil Boesch, chair of TreePeople’s Board of Directors. “We are committed to
protecting our homes from the destructive effects of climate change. By combining forces with MRT, we ensure that we have the resources necessary to meet that goal. We want to make everyone TreePeople and we are delighted that MRT is the first to join our community. Climate change is real and we need all hands on deck. Never has it been more important to support
TreePeople at this pivotal time in the environmental protection movement.”
MERGER A MODEL FOR CITIES AROUND THE GLOBE
As MRT becomes a TreePeople affiliate, “the combined community of forestry, science, policy, educational, community outreach, and land acquisition experts will support millions more community members to restore and protect the Santa Monica Mountains, one of the most unique ecosystems in the world,” the announcement states.
“TreePeople has been a world leader in protecting and educating people about urban nature, and now, with their merger, they will be able to connect city-dwellers with the most extraordinary urban biodiversity hotspot in the world—the Santa Monica Mountains,” said Peter Kereiva, climate scientist and executive director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
“The variety of species per square kilometer in Southern California rivals the variety per unit area found in any tropical forest. I have been doing conservation for 30 years and never
have I seen a merger of environmental non-governmental organizations this exciting,” Kereiva said.
Cindy Montañez, CEO of TreePeople and a former California State Legislator, was appointed the executive director of MRT. Ezekiel Schlais, former executive director of MRT, will now become TreePeople’s chief strategy and development officer.
“This forward-thinking model will be a leading example for cities around the globe,” Schlais said. “True sustainability is bigger than a single city block or a stand-alone nature preserve. Our long-term health will depend on diverse communities rallying for cleaner buildings, more trees, wiser storm drains, and functioning mountain ecosystems.
“The TreePeople and MRT combination offers the holistic tools, leadership, and community initiatives that every city around the world now needs and will soon emulate.”n
For more information, visit treepeople.org