Opinion: Amid the shrinking canopy, community tree planting is needed more than ever

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Yashar Vasef

Vasef is the executive director of Friends of Trees, a nonprofit organization that has planted 900,000 native trees and shrubs in western Oregon and southwestern Washington since 1989.

The recent report on tree canopy loss in Portland is yet another grim piece of news related to how the climate crisis is threatening the health of our environment and our community (“Portland’s tree canopy has stagnated or shrunk, harming the city’s climate change aspirations,” March 22). Report says Portland’s urban tree canopy has shrunk or plateaued for the first time in 50 years – a warning that the city will not be able to meet its goal of having forest cover covering 33% of the city’s area by 2035.

Unfortunately, the release of the report coincides with the end of Friends of Trees’ 14-year contract with the city to plant street and yard trees through community planting events. This nationally replicated partnership between Friends of Trees and the city has added nearly 40,000 street and yard trees to Portland since 2008, while engaging thousands of community members as volunteers to plant and maintain these trees. About 70% of these trees were planted in underserved, low-canopy neighborhoods to address inequities in Portland’s tree distribution.

We really don’t know why this successful partnership is coming to an end. There has been an abundance of rumors and speculation, but all we know is that our contract ends in June and we don’t know of any city plans to invest in programs that center authentic community engagement in planting street and yard trees in Portland. Especially as we see climate impacts accelerating and intensifying right here at home, tackling climate change requires everyone to be on deck: government, nonprofits, and communities. collaborating with a necessary sense of urgency.

It’s not just about ending a contract with Friends of Trees – we understand that contracts end and terms change. But given that we are going through a real climate crisis, we don’t think now is the time to cut a successful tree planting program that also strengthens the community by bringing together volunteers to help grow our urban canopy. Tree planting is one of the best tools at our disposal, and we encourage our municipal leaders to increase and expand investments in community tree planting – with us or with others – and to continue to other proven strategies that combat climate change, promote climate action and promote climate justice.

The Friends of Trees are fortunate to have growing support throughout the region and other municipalities. We also want to maintain momentum here in Portland, where we can leverage our established partnerships, volunteer resources, and community buy-in to help with efforts to plant more trees in Portland. We believe the city should continue to fund community tree planting; of course, we would like to be included in this funding, and we think other organizations should be included as well. Now is the time to increase public investment in trees, not reduce it.

We need trees more than ever, for their ability to improve air quality, store rainwater, provide shade, improve the mental and physical health of members of our community and so much more. . That’s why we hire trained volunteers to check and help take care of each tree after it is planted. Post-planting care and assessment, combined with ongoing communication with tree beneficiaries, contributes to a survival rate of over 95%.

Community planting feeds more than trees. Our events engage volunteers of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, economic status and political opinions to plant and nurture trees together. We partner with other organizations that center climate justice and engage people from historically underserved communities to directly play a role in improving the health and livability of their neighborhoods. It includes environmental education and internships that expand opportunities to enter the green workforce. Authentic community engagement is crucial to achieving climate justice.

Participation in tree planting has a ripple effect that goes beyond trees and the many benefits they provide. We have seen with our own eyes how planting and caring for trees increases community members’ commitment to the environment and their participation in civic life, especially when it comes to climate action. An investment in community tree planting is an investment in managing future climate action.

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