A champion for urban forests: highlights from Catherine Martineau’s 18 years of leadership

By Canopy Team on March 1, 2023

Two women smile while standing together in front of a tree trunk

Kammy Lo and Catherine Martineau. Catherine officially retired on February 28, 2023. Her retirement celebration will take place March 19, 2023.

From the desk of Kammy Lo, Canopy interim executive director

At the end of February, we bid farewell to Canopy’s long-serving, well-loved Executive Director, Catherine Martineau. On behalf of the entire staff team, I would like to express our deepest appreciation for Catherine’s 18 years of unwavering commitment as a champion of local urban forests, and for her care, creativity, and mentorship as a wonderful colleague.

Personally, I feel very grateful for the opportunity to work with Catherine during my 6-year stint on the Canopy Board, especially during the challenging times of the pandemic. As I step into the role of Interim Executive Director to help the organization prepare for new leadership, I am truly proud of what Catherine and the team have accomplished. The nonprofit Catherine has nurtured for nearly two decades is strong, vibrant, deeply rooted in the community, and ready to continue the important work of growing urban forests for a brighter, greener, and healthier future.

Although we can’t capture Catherine’s many contributions in a single post, here are a few of my favorite highlights:

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Catherine has consistently embodied Canopy’s core values of excellence, equity, collaboration, and gratitude. Her thoughtful leadership has helped Canopy grow into a trusted, respected organization with long-lasting partnerships that help achieve a greater collective impact for the whole community.

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Catherine is a caring mentor. During her time as Executive Director, she nurtured dozens of Canopy staff, Teen Urban Foresters, and other young leaders to grow in their careers at Canopy and beyond. She strives to bring out the best in her colleagues and help them see the best in themselves.

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Former East Palo Alto Mayor Pat Foster and Catherine celebrate the launch of the East Palo Alto tree initiative in 2007.

Early on, Catherine noticed the disparity in tree cover between local communities and knew that Canopy could play a role in addressing this inequity. In 2006, just two years after Catherine started, Canopy secured a major grant from the state of California to plant 1,200 trees in partnership with the City of East Palo Alto, bringing much-needed greenery to city parks, neighborhood streets, and along the Highway 101 Soundwall, specifically to combat air pollution and the city’s high childhood asthma rates. Next, Catherine and team partnered with school communities for Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids initiatives, planting more than 2,000 trees in local schools and providing thousands of students with shade, clean air, and access to nature.

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Catherine followed the science and quickly recognized the importance of trees for the community’s health and climate resilience. In conversations about climate and environment locally and beyond, Catherine became a strong voice for the value of nature-based climate solutions.

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Throughout her tenure, Catherine successfully attracted renowned and accomplished luminaries from around the world—including Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, Sir Thomas Pakenham, Dr. E. O. Wilson, Richard Louv, Dr. Hope Jahren, Dr. Gretchen Daily, and Dr. Nalini Nadkarni—to share their knowledge and inspiration with the Canopy community and highlight the importance of urban trees locally and globally.

Two women smile together
2006: Wangari Maathai
Group pose in grove of trees
2008: Thomas Pakenham (far left)
Two women smile as they hand off a microphone
2022: Dr. Nalini Nadkarni
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Catherine set an example of effective partnership-based advocacy. She and the Canopy advocacy team worked closely with cities, counties, school districts, and fellow advocates as a voice for smart tree policies and urban forest investment. Her tireless advocacy influenced policies at the local, regional, and even state level. Among her most impactful projects was shepherding the process to create Urban Forest Master Plans for the cities of Palo Alto  and East Palo Alto, efforts that took many years of diligent work to achieve. These foundational policies provide a vision and blueprint for strengthening the city’s urban forests and engaging residents in the growth and care of trees.

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In addition to her work locally, Catherine championed urban forestry at the state level through her work as a Board Member for California ReLeaf and an active leader in the urban forest sector. She advocated for state funding for urban forestry, especially to address inequitable access to nature. The results that Catherine helped achieve will continue to grow healthier trees and healthier cities for years to come.

Thanks to the solid foundation that Catherine has helped build, Canopy is poised and ready to continue the legacy of her important work. Together with our amazing community of volunteers, supporters, and partners, we’ll carry forward Catherine legacy and continue to work towards a day when everyone can thrive under the shade of healthy trees.

Please join me in congratulating Catherine on an exemplary career and wishing her a very happy retirement!


Kammy Lo signature

Join us for Catherine’s retirement send-off!

A toast to Catherine - celebrating 18 years of transformational leadership
  • RSVP for her retirement party on March 19
  • Submit a message for Catherine, which we’ll share with her in a special book
  • Check out the recent profile of Catherine in the Palo Alto Weekly!

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