• Thu. May 19th, 2022

Portland to sever ties with the company responsible for planting nearly a million trees in the city

ByLinda W. Smith

Apr 8, 2022

PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – A local organization that has planted nearly a million trees across the state says the city of Portland has decided not to renew its contract. This comes after a recent report from Portland Parks & Recreation that indicates the city’s tree canopy is declining at a rapid rate.

Friends of Trees is a non-profit organization that has been around since 1989 according to executive director Yashar Vasef.

“We are a regional organization that believes in bringing the community together to plant trees,” Vasef said. “It’s so much more than the trees that are planted. There are so many qualitative results. We truly believe that through these events we bring the community together, activate the climate activists of today and tomorrow, especially with young people coming out. In our 33 years, we have planted approximately 900,000 native trees and shrubs in our region.

Friends of Trees has been under contract with the City of Portland through the Office of Environmental Services for 14 years. Vasef says the organization has loved working with the city to plant about 40,000 of them around the city, especially in low-income areas, but the city does not plan to renew the contract when it expires this summer.

“We understand the contracts are ending, but we are disappointed to see if there is any dedicated funding from the City of Portland for the upcoming planting season starting in the fall,” Vasef said. “With the canopy loss report that just came out and what we are seeing in the community, especially in East Portland with the heat wave, it really does feel like a time when the city should be prioritizing planting trees and providing opportunities for any organization that aims to do so because it is seriously an equity issue and we saw that with the deaths in East Portland last summer.

In March, Portland Parks & Recreation released a report saying canopy trees have been in decline since 2015, the first decline since 2000. The report is done every five years and says the total canopy loss is 823 acres. 523 of those acres are in residential areas. It has fallen from 30.7% to 29.8% over the past five years. To put it into perspective, that’s a net loss of the size of Mount Tabor Park every year. PP&R said it was not something that happened regularly, and they called it disappointing and surprising.

“We feel like this is a situation where everyone is on deck,” Vasef said. “Government, community and organizations need to come together and prioritize the canopy to mitigate some of the tragic consequences that may continue to unfold, especially during future heat waves.”

Vasef says Friends of Trees will continue its work in other cities and parts of the region. They have two events scheduled in Tualatin and Beaverton this weekend.

Fox 12 contacted the City of Portland Office of Environmental Services, which provided the following statement:

“The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) has several contracts with Friends of Trees focused on planting street trees across the city. The most recent contract was a five-year contract that was due to expire at the end of 2021. The end of this contract coincided with the development of a street tree planting program by the Urban Forestry division of Portland Parks and Recreation. This program included a custody contract between Urban Forestry and Friends of Trees. With Urban Forestry’s new commitment to street tree planting, BES saw an opportunity to shift its focus of tree planting to private property, particularly commercial, industrial and multi-family properties. The positive responses BES has received from corporate partners and landowners have been heartwarming – they are just as dedicated to tree canopy and climate resilience as BES is. To ensure a smooth transition of planting efforts from the right-of-way (street trees) to private ownership, BES extended the 5-year contract with Friends of Trees, adding $675,000 and moving the end date to June 30, 2022. Friends of Trees is set to earn their full contract amount. BES is passionate about ensuring a healthy watershed for our community and recognizes that the tree canopy is an integral part of these goals.

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