News Flash

Parks and Rec News

Posted on: October 29, 2021

Tree Canopy Update


Our Department spends a lot of time thinking about trees. Our Parks and Forestry staff recently made a presentation to the City Council's Sustainability and Transportation Committee about the status of our urban tree canopy, and our plans to expand it. As the very informative American Forests tree equity maps show, our low income areas tend to have a lower number of street trees, and unfortunately this is not just a Portland problem. Our aim is to work with community groups to focus our tree-planting efforts in those neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of tree inequity, such as East and West Bayside neighborhoods, to name a couple. Staggeringly, those neighborhoods only have 3% tree cover, while some of our neighborhoods have 30% or higher tree canopy cover. The challenge is that the low-income neighborhoods also tend to have less available space to plant trees, as they are generally more urban and developed, so it takes a great deal of planning and coordination between multiple Departments to create viable planting spaces for healthy street trees. The good news is that work is in progress, as we have a team of dedicated staff in Parks, Public Works, and Planning Departments all working on that challenge.

While we are nicknamed the Forest City, our tree canopy has taken some big hits over the decades. Dutch Elm Disease killed 20,000 street trees in the 1950's and 60's, and now we are battling the steady decline of 6,000 fragile and invasive Norway Maples that were planted in the 70's and 80's to replace the diseased Elms. Our focus today is to plant hardy, native species that can withstand the numerous forces that work against street trees: salt, car accidents, vandalism, and disease. Our high performers are Swamp White Oak, Honey Locust and Red Maples. Our City Arborist and Forestry Crew maintain an inventory of 20,000 street trees and park trees, and each year they plant an average of 175 new trees. This year, we celebrated the great accomplishment of the crew planting over 200 trees, with 30 alone in the Bayside neighborhood. Even though this was a great accomplishment, we ended up removing slightly more than 200 trees due to strong storms, disease, age, or to weed out harmful invasive species, so we have a lot of work to do to increase the tree canopy. Private property makes up the vast majority of the city's land mass, so we can't solve the tree canopy problem by planting on City land alone. Private property owners who have room to plant trees can be part of the solution by planting trees in their yards. The City will even plant it for you if you apply through our Tree Coop program.  Keep an eye on our newsletter and social media for ways to get involved in street tree volunteer efforts. In the meantime, keep planting (and watering) trees!
Ethan Hipple 
Parks, Recreation & Facilities Director

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