FAQ: The end of Friends of Trees’ Portland partnership

In response to a February 2022 report detailing Portland’s loss of tree canopyFriends of Trees was contacted by numerous members of the public, by reporters, and by supporters. Given the need for more trees in Portland, questioners wondered, Why is the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services ending its longtime partnership with Friends of Trees? Toward trying to address the situation with as much transparency as possible, Friends of Trees’ executive director Yashar Vasef submitted an Op Ed to the Oregonian, which was published on April 3.

Since we posted this  information about our Op Ed in April, there has been additional media coverage about this important issue:

OPB story by April Ehrlich, July 11, 2022: Portland’s unfriendly treatment of Friends of Trees

Oregonian editorial July 10, 2022: A puzzling change to a partnership that worked

Oregonian story by Kale Williams, June 29, 2022: With Portland’s canopy dwindling, city ends street tree-planting contract with Friends of Trees

 

In response to our Op Ed and other media coverage there have been some statements issued by the City that could be considered incomplete, and in some cases misleading, when taken out of context. Friends of Trees addresses those statements and other frequently asked questions here. We’ll update this as needed.

Q: What is Friends of Trees doing in response to the end of its city partnership?

First, it’s important to emphasize that Friends of Trees isn’t going anywhere. Thanks to our massive network of volunteers and generous donors, along with supportive municipal partners throughout the region, we will continue to plant trees and foster climate resiliency in numerous communities throughout western Oregon and southwest Washington.

We are doing everything we can to make sure that there is still community tree planting in Portland. We are talking to partner organizations, community members, and government officials about how we can make tree planting easier, more accessible, and more equitable.

Toward continuing to plant trees in Portland neighborhoods that need them most – and continuing to do so in a way that engages community, and is inclusive and equitable – in partnership with Verde, Cully Air Action Team and other community organizations we will implement a concentrated community tree planting project in Cully and surrounding east Portland neighborhoods, funded privately, in our 2022-23 season. You can read more about this project in the July 2022 edition of our enews, Treemail, coming out soon (you can sign up to receive Treemail and other Friends of Trees news here).

We will also continue growing our work with other municipalities throughout the region, as we find great value in these partnerships and what they can accomplish. And no matter where we plant, we will plant the Friends of Trees Way.

Q: If Friends of Trees’ City of Portland contract to plant street and yard trees is ending, why is the city issuing statements referencing an active contract, worth up to $1 million, that Friends of Trees has with Portland Parks & Recreation?

The PP&R statement is unfortunately very misleading and only partially describes the actual situation.

This is a version of the statement issued by PP&R and referenced by other city offices and bureaus: “Friends of Trees currently has an active five-year contract with Portland Parks & Recreation, now in its second year. The contract is to plant trees and provide three years of watering and establishment care. Friends of Trees was allocated $139,000.00 for this tree planting season, which they have not fully utilized. They are eligible to provide up to $1 million in contracted on-call services annually, under this contract with PP&R.”

This is the reality:

  • This contract with PP&R is separate from the contracts Friends of Trees has had with the Bureau of Environmental Services since 2008, which is now ending after 14 years. Those BES contracts are the contracts that have planted 40,000 street and yard trees with community volunteers.
  • Our contract with PP&R was for only two years of tree planting and that portion ends this year; this contract resulted in a total of 130 trees planted over two years. There is no future funding from this contract to plant trees, the remaining three years of the contract are only for tree care (mainly watering).
  • The $1 million reference could be especially misleading. Our understanding is that this is standard city contract language for this sort of contract, and that it’s in all contracts under $1 million (with different language for contracts over $1 million). We were not made aware of any potential to receive anywhere near $1 million annually to plant trees through this contract with PP&R.
  • The trees planted through this contract are “opt out” plantings, meaning that the city identifies addresses where a street tree could be planted, they alert the property owner that a tree will be planted, and the property owner can then “opt out” (or, say no) if they do not want a tree. This method of tree planting does not involve any community engagement and, per the contract, volunteers cannot be involved.
  • Via this contract, in the beginning of our current planting season (which runs October – April) Friends of Trees received a list of addresses to plant a total of 80 trees, which we did; these trees were not planted with community volunteers. In February 2022, while we were in the midst of our community tree planting season, we were asked if we’d like another list of addresses to plant more trees; since we were in the middle of our season and this additional list was unexpected – and since this method of tree planting is not the Friends of Trees Way (engaging  volunteers, building relationships with tree recipients, and more) – we declined. This is why the full $139,000 contract was not utilized.

Q: What’s wrong with the City planting trees themselves?

Absolutely nothing! We want the City to plant trees. We do not believe that this issue is us versus them. There is an important role for government to play in planting and caring for trees.

We believe that it’s also important to include community organizations in those efforts. We want to help, and we want our partner organizations to be able to help. The more trees that get planted, the better. Be it with the City, Friends of Trees, or other community organizations, all avenues to tree planting should be open.

In addition to getting trees in the ground, Friends of Trees adds unique value to the process through community engagement. We have been involving community members in tree planting for over 30 years. Our staff has knowledge that goes beyond tree planting and tree care to volunteer engagement and education. Authentic engagement with the community always leads to more success for the tree.

Q: Will Friends of Trees be planting trees in Portland next season?

Yes, but it will be different. You won’t see the same amount of neighborhood tree planting events that we are so well-known for. But we will continue planting trees and native plants in natural areas within the City, and we are still seeking funding to expand to other environmental justice geographies for future seasons.

Q: What can you do to help?

First of all, thank you for your support of community tree planting! We hope that you utilize our democratic system to make your voice heard. We encourage you to contact your elected officials and let them know that you want to see an investment in community tree planting in Portland.

You can also support community tree planting organizations like Friends of Trees. Additionally, we invite you to support some of our partners who are impacted by this loss of funding from the City, including the Blueprint Foundation, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), Wisdom of the Elders and Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), and organizations like Trees for Life that are addressing crucial issues like shade equity.