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From ‘Stumptown’ beginnings, Portland’s urban forest named one of top 10 in the country

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From ‘Stumptown’ beginnings, Portland’s urban forest named one of top 10 in the country

Portland’s urban forest is among the top 10 in the nation, according to an American Forests report released Tuesday.

Efforts to plant trees over one-third of the city and to maintain a healthy population of existing trees earned a top-10 spot for “Stumptown” — Portland’s nickname when its landscape was overly logged and treeless.

American Forests’ report, funded by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture, didn’t rank cities, but Portland officials are quick to point out Portland was the first case study detailed in an American Forests book about successful urban forests.

The report says Portland has 23.75 park acres per 1,000 people, making more than 16 percent of the city parkland.

The city has 1.4 million trees total — 1.2 million in parks and 240,000 on city streets. In its Urban Forest Management Plan, completed in 2004, the city set a goal of 33 percent of Portland’s surface area covered in urban forest; currently it’s at 30 percent, increasing 2.6 percentage points during the past nine years.

“People love their trees in Portland. That makes our job easier,” said Jenn Cairo, forester for Portland Parks & Recreation. “Good public services come from a lot of community support.”

Rounding out the top-10 urban forests are New York City, with 19.51 percent coverage; Washington, D.C., with 18.99 percent; Austin, Texas, with 17.96 percent; Minneapolis with 14.58 percent; Seattle with 10.2 percent; Sacramento with 8.15 percent; Milwaukee with 9.8 percent; Denver with 6 percent; and Charlotte, N.C., with 5.5 percent.

Park acreage wasn’t the only factor in the list; American Forests considered the investment each city made in its urban forest, the forest’s health and community engagement.

Portland’s trees cost about $6.5 million to maintain annually but provide nearly $27 million in benefits, Cairo says. Benefits span stormwater treatment — absorbing dirty water runoff from streets before it reaches a water treatment facility — to improving air and soil quality, to improving quality of life.

“Can you imagine Portland with no trees?” Cairo asked. “It’s a big part of a good life in the city.”

Groups like Friends of Trees have been crucial in helping Portland move from a treeless town — 100 years ago, now-green Ladd’s Addition and the South Park blocks were clear cut — to a city whose aerial view is tinted green, city officials say.

Friends of Trees has weekly planting events November through April that draw 80 to 100 volunteers planting trees in different sectors of the city, says Brighton West, deputy director of the organization.

“Portlanders really get trees,” West said. “In other places people may see a tree and think it’s beautiful. In Portland, we’re more wonky. People see the beauty, but also things like stormwater management. So Portlanders are that much more likely to get involved.”

He added that Portland’s policy efforts have drawn the type of people willing to invest in the urban forest.

Portland has had an urban forestry department of some sort since the 1970s, before the benefits of a forested city were a common understanding, Cairo said. Today’s forestry department works to strike a balance between city living and maintaining a thriving forest.

With 11 arborists to maintain 1.4 million trees, the department focuses on meeting goals in the Urban Forest Management Plan, such as diversifying species and planting more trees.

Along with groups like Friends of Trees, Portland’s Environmental Services has helped with planting, starting in 2008 with an eight-year goal of planting 84,000 trees. Since then the bureau has planted about 4,000 trees annually.

The forestry department is reaching out to neighborhood residents to conduct tree inventories, documenting what types of trees are where so the city can meet its species diversity goal, which helps ensure forest health, Cairo said. For example, to date inventories have found maples are prevalent; that means if a disease targeting maples sweeps the city, a large swath of neighborhood trees would die. Diversity helps prevent that.

Portland hasn’t been able to proactively maintain its urban forest for years, Cairo said. As budgets face slashing, it’s likely the urban forest’s health will continue to depend on tree-centric partners.

“If it was just the forestry department, we’d fail miserably,” Cairo said. “It has to be something a lot of people need to be invested in. We’re lucky to be in a tree place.”

Sara Hottman


Written by vaphc

February 8, 2013 at 6:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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