The Great Oak Count

The most comprehensive survey of native oaks in the Bay Area

Trees are one of the most significant living forces in our environment. In our region, oaks in particular have played a key role in supporting local ecosystems and sustaining a diverse web of native wildlife. Over the last two centuries, however, once prevalent oak woodlands have been largely eliminated, first by agricultural conversion, and later by rapid development and urbanization.

Today, there is increasing recognition that re-integrating oaks in our parks and urban landscapes promises a host of benefits, both for wildlife and for people.

As a first step, Canopy and partners are reviving a comprehensive survey of native oaks in Palo Alto.

Join us as we launch The Great Oak Count!

The original Oakwell Survey

The original OakWell Survey was one of the first projects taken on by Canopy over 20 years ago. From 1997-2001, a small group of volunteers surveyed coast live oaks, valley oaks, black oaks, and blue oaks to create a baseline for future evaluation of changes in Palo Alto’s native oak population.

This small but dedicated corps of volunteers mapped 9,000 oak trees (13,000 counting groves)! They gathered new and valuable data about the health and locations of these trees, and transferred oak tree care instructions to homeowners.

Oaks in Rinconada Park, 1981 (courtesy of Palo Alto Historical Society)

Fast forward 20 years

Palo Alto’s recently adopted Urban Forest Master Plan addresses the need to conserve and grow our native tree population, and Canopy plays a significant part in this effort by launching The Great Oak Count. We began information gathering about the original survey in 2016, and in October 2017 will launch the survey update efforts

The original surveyors did not know the long-term benefit of the survey at the time, but, combined with new survey data, their efforts will  help today’s urban forest managers understand the trends over the last 20 years, and guide recommendations and re-oaking efforts for the coming decades.

During The Great Oak Count, volunteers:

  • Educate the community about the importance of native oak trees and how to properly care for them.
  • Engage residents in using our new Tree Plotter tool to add trees to our community map
  • Gather data on the health, vitality, and number of native oak trees in Palo Alto.
  • Have fun! This is an exciting new citizen science project you won’t want to miss!

Pilot Launch in October 2017

This “Oaktober”, we’ll pilot a new method of data collection using our brand new Canopy Tree Plotter (stay tuned for more on this soon!). Instead of clipboards and printed reports, volunteers will be equipped with smartphones and tablets, plotting oak trees on an interactive, easy-to-use online map.

Our hope is that this tool will facilitate accurate, efficient data collection, enabling us to assess and report our findings in real time. The user-friendly format will also be fun for volunteers!

Join us for our first volunteer survey event on Saturday, October 28th from 9am to 12pm, sign up here

Key Partners

A map of oak tree distribution 20 years ago

Distribution of oaks by neighborhood, surveyed in the Oakwell Survey


If you would like to learn more about the The Great Oak Count or have any questions, contact Elise Willis, Community Forestry Program Manager, at