Meet the Board: Geoff Paulsen

By Canopy Team on December 14, 2018

In follow up to our posts on Laura Martinez and Susan Rosenberg, Marty Deggeller and Shelley RataySally O’Neil and Kammy Lo, and Jane Jones—we’re thrilled to introduce Geoff Paulsen, board member since 2014 and Chair of Canopy’s Advocacy Committee!

Geoff Paulsen

Canopy Board Member Geoff PaulsenGeoff Paulsen is recently retired from the Park Service. Geoff’s childhood on a Palo Alto ranch next to Foothills Park gave him a deep love of the outdoors. Over the course of his career, he worked as a park ranger, open space planner, and public health manager. He has managed his family’s 380-acre forest in Mendocino County for 26 years. Geoff is Vice-Chair of the Cupertino Parks and Recreation Commission and on the Board of Friends of Stevens Creek Trail. He enjoys prescribed burning, hiking, bicycling, writing, history, church leadership, and tinkering with old Mercedes cars. He and his wife Janine, a school nurse, have four adult children. Geoff holds a BS in Natural Resources Planning and Interpretation, and an MPA from the University of San Francisco.

How did you get started with Canopy and how long have you been on the board?

Geoff: I got started with Canopy by having coffee with our CEO, Catherine Martineau. From years working in public health and volunteering with refugees, Native Americans, and others, I developed a passion for social justice. And in my retirement, had an epiphany about planting trees. When Catherine told me over coffee that she’d informed the Canopy Board that she wouldn’t take the CEO job unless it involved a lot of work in East Palo Alto, I decided then and there to volunteer.

I’ve been on the Board a little over four years, where I work some on our plantings and our vehicles, but primarily on advocacy.

What inspires you most about Canopy’s work?

Geoff: Canopy inspires me because we connect with the community. Whether it’s classroom education, hiring under-resourced students, or involving the whole family in a tree planting, we weave trees into the fabric of the community. Trees become part of the childrens’ experience, and part of the community’s soul. And that makes all the difference. A drone can plant 100,000 a day, but we plant passion. A drone can’t do that.

Also, Canopy embodies quality. Whether it’s planting trees carefully, caring for them as they grow, or hiring and nurturing a great cadre of staff and volunteers, I really appreciate the care Canopy demonstrates at every turn.

Why do you care about trees?

Geoff: Like many of you, my love of trees grew from childhood. Growing up on a 2,400 acre ranch in the Palo Alto hills, I felt the rough bark of the oaks that I climbed, I heard the roar of storms ripping through their branches, and I marveled at the gentle grace of the butterflies that called them home. I learned the importance of preserving trees when, at the age of five, my grandmother persuaded my grandfather to preserve 1,400 acres of the ranch for Foothills Park.

Later, I learned the importance of trees at Humboldt State University as I got my undergraduate degree in natural resources planning and interpretation. I continued to learn as a park ranger and open space planner. One of my specialties is prescribed fire, which I still practice on a 400-acre forest my family owns in Mendocino County. A meadow we burned is now dotted with valley oak seedlings.

Then, as I studied public administration in grad school at the University of San Francisco and worked in public health and planning, I learned about the importance of the urban forest. For although vast forests benefit the planet, the trees nearby become our friendsgiving us shade from the heat, fragrance after the rain, and a voice for the breezes that tousle our hair.

But perhaps what I care most about is using my gifts to help others experience trees as I didfrom childhood to a more advanced stage of youth.

What is your favorite tree?

Geoff: There’s an old valley oak in a friend’s meadow in Mendocino County. We call it “The Big Oak Tree.” It fed generations of the Witok’um people who danced in its shade. To me, the tree represents generosity (feeding thousands), beauty (it is awesome), and endurance (it has seen all the eras of California’s human history pass beneath its enormous limbs).

Thanks Geoff!

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