Street tree planting uncertain as Portland ends contract with nonprofit
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A years-long partnership between the city of Portland and a local nonprofit is coming to an end, and with it, thousands of trees are taking root across the city.
Tree Friends helped the city plant over 40,000 trees, especially in low-income, low-canopy areas and while they understand the city’s choice to end their contract, they say it’s disappointing and worry about the future of tree planting as climate change remains front and center listening.
“With the heat wave we saw last year in East Portland and those low-canopy neighborhoods, everything is in place right now,” said Yashar Vasef, executive director of Friends of Trees.
Vasef added “we really believe in bringing the community together to stand up for climate advocates and to really have more community investment in buying trees that we see in our neighborhoods.”
Through a one-year contract with Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), Friends of Trees has rallied community members to plant more than 40,000 trees around the subway since 2008.
Now, BES says that contract won’t be renewed because Portland Parks and Recreation has started its own street tree planting program through the Division of Urban Forestry.
But Friends of Trees says it’s a much smaller scale, only about 130 trees in the past two years.
“The way it works is they tell us, they give us a list at the start of the planting season of where we can go plant. It is not a community model. They asked us not to use volunteers, it’s in the contract,” Vasef said. “It’s a model of non-participation where the owner, it is up to him to refuse to obtain this tree where our approach is to participate. We want people to say yes to trees and we guide them through the process. »
Parks and Rec says their five-year contract with Friends of Trees is still active, but as this month ends the two-year planting plan, the next three years of the contract are mainly spent on watering and tending .
In the absence of clear plans for further tree plantings and growing attention to climate change and recent heat waves, the nonprofit says that is concerning.
“The question we’re asking is why would now be the time not to plant more trees,” Vasef said. “There are resources in the community like Friends of Trees and other organizations that are ready and can inspire thousands of community members to join the city in this work.”
This is a question that KOIN 6 News also posed to the city. Still, Friends of Trees says they won’t go anywhere and will continue to plant the seeds for community tree projects throughout the region.
“We have growing support from about 30 municipalities in the Eugene area of southwest Washington, so we will continue to do our job,” Vasef said.
KOIN 6 News has also reached out to the city’s Office of Environmental Services to see what the plans are to replace those tree planting services or how they will cope without them. Their Community Partnerships Manager is looking into the matter.
In a statement, the Bureau of Environmental Services said: “The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) has entered into several contracts with Friends of Trees, focused on planting street trees throughout 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.”
BES added “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.
In a statement, Portland Parks and Recreation said: “Friends of Trees currently has an active five-year contract with Portland Parks & Recreation, which is now in its second year. The contract consists of planting trees and providing three years of watering and maintenance of the establishment. Friends of Trees received $139,000.00 for this tree planting season, which they did not fully utilize. They are eligible to provide up to $1 million in contract custody services per year, under this contract with PP&R.”