Susie Peterson, Neighborhood Trees Assistant & Contract Administrator, testifying at the May 16 Community Budget Forum (Erica Timm)
At the City of Portland’s Community Budget Forum on May 16, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz asked Friends of Trees’ Susie Peterson to explain the role of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services’ canvassers in the success of the Grey to Green Initiative, which has led to a much-needed increase in tree cover in Portland’s most underserved neighborhoods.
Commissioner Fritz raised the question because a proposed transfer of Grey to Green funding from BES to Portland Parks & Recreation would eliminate the critical BES canvassers who have helped East Portland residents order trees through Friends of Trees. Below is Susie’s answer:
Commissioner Fritz, it was a pleasure presenting testimony to you last night at the public hearing. Thank you for inquiring about canvassers hired by BES to promote tree planting in Portland neighborhoods.
Since the first year of the Grey to Green Initiative, BES has hired as many as 10 canvassers each May to go door-to-door and encourage homeowners to sign up for trees.
The success of each planting season would not have been possible without the canvassers. Last year alone they were responsible for over half of Friends of Trees’ tree sign-ups. They are especially effective in underserved neighborhoods. For example, the year prior to BES’ hiring canvassers, trees planted in all neighborhoods east of I-205 totaled 100. Compare that with last year, where canvassers’ efforts led to over 2,700 trees being planted by Friends of Trees and BES in those neighborhoods—and you can really see the difference.
The canvassers are also trained by Portland Parks & Recreation staff to do the tree inspections once someone signs up for street trees. These canvassers/inspectors handled approximately 4,000 tree inspections for us last season (2012-13). The concern is that without these canvassers, tree sign-ups will decrease by half, and it’s not clear in the proposed budget who would handle future inspections.
These canvassers are paid by BES and are separate from the amount of our contract with BES. In addition to canvassing for trees to be planted through our program they also do much to help the staff at BES. We request that canvassers continue to be managed in this way.
In addition, by funding tree planting through stormwater rates, the message to the citizens of Portland, and to those who look to our city as a forward-thinking example, is that trees are an important part of a city’s infrastructure, and that green infrastructure matters. By moving tree planting to Portland Parks & Recreation, a message is sent that trees are pretty and nice, but aren’t as important as a city’s “gray” infrastructure. Portland citizens are as aware as they are ever going to be about the importance of trees, and they understand their connection to processing stormwater. Please consider the long-term goal of seeing trees as important parts of the infrastructure and keep tree planting within the Bureau of Environmental Services.
Thank you again for taking the time to hear this message. I know these are difficult decisions, which is why we’re trying to provide you with useful information about our program. If there is any additional information that we can provide to help with these decisions please let us know.
I truly appreciate how much each of you gives to serve the public.
Neighborhood Trees Assistant
Friends of Trees
Here’s how you can contact Portland’s Mayor and Commissioners to let them know how critical it is to continue planting trees in Portland’s most underserved neighborhoods.