Climate Trees: Trees for the 21st Century – Part 3

This is the third and final part of our “Climate Trees” series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Climate Trees
FOT Lane County Director Erik Burke (Jessyca Burke)

The first of the Tier 2 “climate trees” (California black oak, valley oak, coast live oak, interior live oak, blue oak, and Chinese pistache) were planted at Friends of Trees’ Feb. 9, 2013 planting in Eugene’s Friendly Neighborhood. In the 2013-14 planting season, FOT will increase Tier 2 offerings, adding holly oak, cork oak, canyon live oak, California buckeye, and crape myrtle. On February 24, an arboretum of “climate trees” was planted by the city contractor in the parking lot of Sheldon High School.

Tier 2 trees have been difficult or impossible to source at a reasonable price until now, and there has been little or no local demand for them. FOT is working to improve both the supply of these Tier 1 and Tier 2 trees, and to increase the demand for them through education, outreach and incentives. To increase supply, FOT is talking with nurseries about the potential of these trees, and working on agreements with nurseries to grow the trees locally from appropriate seed sources while minimizing cost and risk to the nurseries.

Climate Trees
Just beginning (Jessyca Burke)

FOT is also working to identify the provenance or source of all the trees we offer, and to identify appropriate provenance for seed and nursery stock for future trees. The long-term solution to the problem of provenance is to produce trees in local nurseries from diverse, known and well-sourced provenances. FOT has purchased liners (small trees) of several species and entered into relationships with a local nursery to begin growing southwest Oregon and California native trees for street trees for Eugene and Springfield.

We play God with every tree we plant. This imbues our work with responsibility. We are working hard to offer trees that are grown locally with known provenance, are adapted to our climate and soils, and are sited so they can provide beauty and benefits for generations. With your help FOT can build local demand for trees that will thrive in the long run in our cities and build a strong base of skilled, informed consumers, producers and stewards who will tend our trees into the future.

–Burke is Director of FOT Lane County

Climate Trees: Trees for the 21st Century – Part 2

This is a continuation of “Climate Trees: Trees for the 21st Century.” You can read Part 1 here.

Climate Trees
Pyramidal European Hornbeam (FOT file)

FOT’s Lane County chapter developed a provisional three-tier list of trees that are likely to be resilient to climate change and tolerate heat and drought well to help prioritize planting efforts.

Tier 1 trees are top priority to plant. They are heat and drought tolerant trees that we can plant now, trees already on local approved street tree lists. Of the more than 100 trees on local approved lists, we found 16 trees that we feel are climate resilient, but only four that we can source and receive easy approval to plant locally. These are Oregon white oak, silver linden, red horsechestnut, and European hornbeam. FOT has made major strides at increasing planting of Oregon white oaks on Eugene streets.

Other Tier 1 trees are conifers that local municipalities restrict completely or limit planting to rare 20 foot planting strips, such as Atlas cedar, incense cedar, giant sequoia, deodar cedar, valley ponderosa, and Douglas-fir. Several additional Tier 1 trees are difficult or impossible to source currently, such as sawtooth oak, Hungarian oak, Shumards oak, and burr oak.

South Eugene, Feb. 9, 2013
The first trees from the Climate Tree program were planted in Eugene on Feb. 9, 2013 (Marcus Kauffman)

Tier 2 trees are trees that are used as street trees in urban areas in the western US with success are likely to thrive here, but are not on current local approved street tree lists. These include Oregon natives such as California black oak, canyon live oak, Oregon myrtle, and California natives such as coast live oak, interior live oak, blue oak, and valley oak. Other Tier 2 species include chitalpa, crape myrtle, cork oak, holly oak, silverleaf oak, oracle oak, cedar of Lebanon, Spanish fir, Chinese pistache, strawberry tree, and southern live oak.

Tier 3 trees are trees that are rarely or not used as street trees but are heat and drought tolerant and good candidates for experimentation in our area. These include California buckeye, madrone, Japanese chinkapin, Cretan maple, western redbud, and roble beech.

Inspired by FOT’s talks in September 2012, the City of Eugene Office of Sustainability funded two efforts to expand the use of climate resilient trees in Eugene and to create working examples. The Sustainability Office provided funding to FOT to purchase and offer several Tier 2 trees in its Neighborhood Trees program, and to conduct outreach and education efforts about these trees. FOT is currently offering California black oak, valley oak, coast live oak, interior live oak, blue oak, and Chinese pistache.

Click here to read Part 3 of the Climate Tree series.

–Burke is Director of FOT Lane County


Climate Trees: Trees for the 21st Century – Part 1

By Erik Burke

This is the first in a three-part series about Friends of Trees’ new Climate Tree Program, initiated in the Eugene-Springfield area during the 2012-13 planting season.

The times they are a changing—for people and trees. Humans are changing the earth’s climate, and many of the trees we plant in our cities are unlikely to fare well in these changing conditions.

Climate Trees
Eugene's first Climate Trees, planted in the Friendly Neighborhood in Feb. 2013

It’s not clear how climate will change in western Oregon. It’s very likely that there will be significant changes in temperature and precipitation, with temperature perhaps rising over the next 40-50 years so that temperature in Eugene-Springfield is similar to areas in northern California.

Changes in precipitation are less clear, as is whether we will see radical changes in ocean currents or the eastern Pacific high pressure system that gives us our annual summer drought. Cities like Chicago are changing the trees they plant in public areas, replacing the trees they have been planting with trees from warmer climates around 500 miles south.

To begin to address these issues, on September 14, 2012, Friends of Trees organized two talks on the topic of “Trees for Eugene-Springfield’s 21st Century Urban Forest.” I presented an initial tree list developed locally to guide species selection. This discussion of trees for the 21st Century is not solely about climate-resilient trees. It is also about shifting the approach to planting trees from an emphasis on ornament and profit, to an emphasis on trees that are more resilient and locally adapted, and provide more ecological services than many currently planted species.

FOT Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Kris Day, from FOT’s Portland office, and Jim Gersbach, longtime Friends of Trees volunteer, gave presentations on their work to identify drought-tolerant trees that thrive in our area, plant them, and monitor their success over time. Kris and Jim are part of a Portland-based project called Tomorrow’s Urban Forest (TUF) whose goal is to develop a better understanding of which species of trees are likely to thrive and which are likely to struggle in the Willamette Valley given a warmer and possibly drier future climate.

A major factor for tree selection in the Eugene-Springfield area is the area’s annual summer drought. Significant rainfall rarely occurs locally from late May through September, limiting which trees thrive here without irrigation.

Climate Trees
Oregon white oak Heritage Tree in NW Portland (Teri Ruch)

Tree assemblages of the warm period in the area’s history, from 6-10,000 years ago, such as Oregon white oak, valley ponderosa, and incense cedar, are likely to be particularly suited to our area in the 21st century. Trees from northern California are likely to be heat and drought tolerant in our area. Trees from other regions with similar summer dry climate patterns to ours are more likely to thrive in our area than trees from summer wet areas. This means that the best regions to choose trees from that are likely to thrive in our cities are western North America, southern Europe, north Africa, southwestern Australia, and south-central South America.

Given these facts, FOT Lane County developed a provisional three-tier list of trees that are likely to be resilient to climate change and tolerate heat and drought well to help prioritize planting efforts.

Click here to read Part 2 of the Climate Trees series.

–Burke is Director of FOT Lane County


What Coalition Means to Friends of Trees

This fall, an 11-member coalition led by Friends of Trees was awarded a $12 million Urban and Community Forestry Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) grants. The grant will fund the engagement of low canopy neighborhoods included in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative, which will bring resources to communities most impacted by climate change, pollution, and environmental hazards.

The driving theme of the IRA Project is coalition building.

Coalition building goes hand-in-hand with Friends of Trees’ mission to grow community by planting and caring for trees and natural areas together. While we are proud of our past and existing partnerships, this new project is an unprecedented opportunity to take our approach to partnering to the next level by more meaningfully and responsively collaborating with community stakeholders. This includes carving the time and capacity to connect as project partners and people.

We are so excited to work closely with our partners on this project: APANO, Black Parent Initiative, City of Gresham, City of Portland, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Connecting Canopies, Depave, POIC, Verde, and Wisdom of the Elders. We’ll be spotlighting each of these partners over the next year as we work together on a coalition model that moves us forward as a community team. It’ll be a big, complicated effort, but one that is certainly worth taking on so that we can build a more equitable urban forest.

The efforts toward this community coalition made the IRA coalition possible. And it’s become abundantly clear that it played a significant role in securing this transformative coalition grant that’s unprecedented for Friends of Trees! Learn more about the project here.


Friends of Trees in National Geographic

Friends of Trees’ extensive data about the trees we plant and care for was the basis for Dr. Geoffrey Donovan’s ground-breaking study about the life-saving potential of trees–and now that data and Friends of Trees are in National Geographic! (we bolded the Friends of Trees section for you)

The surprising way that millions of new trees could transform America

The U.S. is making a billion-dollar investment in planting and maintaining trees across the country to combat extreme heat and expand access to nature. But the benefits go way beyond that.



When community groups planted 125 trees in two low-income neighborhoods in north central Detroit this past spring, changes were seen almost immediately. Residents began using the newly greened streets as a pedestrian corridor that allowed them to interact more with their neighbors. Trash collectors who routinely picked up garbage reported that littering had almost stopped completely.

“To me, it was validation that what we are hoping to accomplish with trees can and will work,” says Eric Candela, director of local government relations for American Forests, whose mission for more than 100 years has been to restore and protect the nation’s forest ecosystems.

In the next few months, Detroit will receive almost $10 million to plant more trees, along with many other cities and nonprofit groups in the U.S. that will get varying amounts to affect similar change. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden Administration is awarding a billion dollars in grant money to communities throughout the country to plant trees to combat extreme heat and increase access to nature in cities and towns, where more than 84 percent of Americans live.

The money, which is the largest investment to date in urban and community forests, will go mostly to disadvantaged communities that grapple with “tree equity”—having enough trees so that everyone can experience their environmental, health, and economic benefits.

Adapting to climate change while helping fight it The positive climate impacts of trees are well-documented.

Trees, including parks and nature preserves, remove about 45 million tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Already, they offset the pollution from about 10 million cars.

On a more local level, the can drastically influence the climate of a single neighborhood.

Trees are natural coolants and lower the risk of respiratory and heat-related illnesses such as those seen during this summer’s record heat wave. Streets with few trees are typically 10 degrees warmer and exacerbate “urban heat islands” that occur in areas with dense concentrations of pavement, concrete, and other materials that absorb and retain heat.

“Trees are a critical part of the infrastructure of cities and are as important as sidewalks and bridges,” says Benita Hussain, tree equity lead for American Forests, which was awarded $50 million in federal funding for tree planting and maintenance.

A growing body of research is finding that trees also provide an array of benefits associated with physical and mental health.

How trees make us healthier The calming effect of being around trees is familiar to anyone who has sat on a bench under a tree, walked down a tree-lined street, or experienced the respite of shade from a tree on a scorching hot day.

But research has also found that trees can help people live longer. A 2022 U.S. Forest Service study of 30 years of tree planting in Portland, Oregon by the nonprofit organization Friends of Trees found that one premature death was avoided for every 100 trees planted. Using data from the Oregon Health Authority, researchers found that in neighborhoods where more trees had been planted, death rates (per 100,000 persons) were lower. The association strengthened as trees aged and grew: the reduction in mortality rate associated with trees planted 11-15 years before was double that observed with trees planted in the preceding 1-5 years. This speaks to the potential public health benefits of preserving existing mature trees, which are associated with lower death rates.

In a 2020 report on Philadelphia’s goal to reach 30 percent tree canopy cover in every neighborhood by 2025, researchers estimated that 403 premature deaths overall, including 244 premature deaths in areas of lower socioeconomic status, could be prevented annually if the city were able to meet its goal. At the time, the tree canopy cover in disadvantaged areas was about 17 percent.

Trees make us happier too Numerous studies show that being around trees reduces blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Research has also found that increasing the number of urban trees is associated with a statistically significant improvement in mental health conditions, especially for people living in disadvantaged areas. A 2015 study monitored participants’ heart rates to measure acute stress responses in individuals who walked past vacant lots in Philadelphia before and after they were filled with trees. They found that looking at greener lots decreased heart rate.

“Trees calm us down, improve our mood and stress levels, and lower blood pressure,” says Michelle Kondo, a U.S. Forest Service social scientist who studies the health benefits of trees.

Being in nature helps people bounce back faster from stress, and being around trees helps restore attention. It’s a mini-rest period that reduces the body’s arousal mechanism and returns it to a more restful state, thereby stabilizing mood.

“We spend so much time staring at computer screens, but being in nature allows us to replenish that cognitive reserve,” says Peter James, an environmental health expert at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Staring at trees, even watching leaves scatter in the wind allows our brains to be ready for the next cognitive task.”

Similarly, trees can help children with ADHD. Linda Powers Tomasso, an environmental scientist at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, asserts that this is especially useful in helping children with attentional issues and that trees can help them focus more.

Transforming tree-less communities Studies confirm that planting trees fosters a sense of community and civic pride, especially in areas that have been historically underinvested in.

“Psychologically, people feel ‘someone is paying attention to my neighborhood,’” says Tomasso. ‘”Some entity cares about my neighborhood. I matter.’”

The presence of trees in urban areas facilitates outdoor recreation, physical activity, and socializing, which can reduce lonelines.

“Being near trees softens people in disposition and makes them more empathetic to others,” says Kondo.

Trees can even reduce crime and gun violence.

A recent University of Pennsylvania study examining gun violence and tree cover in six U.S. cities found that higher neighborhood income was strongly linked to lower firearm violence over a five-year period. A 2018 study on cleaning-and-greening vacant lots in neighborhoods with residents living below the poverty line found a 29 percent reduction in gun violence around lots that were greened with trees compared to vacant lots.

The process of planting and maintaining urban trees can also bring jobs to a community and lead to the creation of a local environmental workforce.

According to Marcos Trinidad, senior director of forestry for Southern California’s Tree People, which received $8 million in federal funding, upcoming tree plantings throughout parts of Southern California will require many workers—for planting new trees, pruning , and removing older trees. In fact, funding comes at a time when millions of trees are being lost to wildfires, drought, urban development, and a lack of good tree care.

“I’m not a psychologist,” adds Trinidad. “But when I’m around trees, and I can walk down a street lined with trees…, it creates this overall feeling of joy.”