Friends of Trees’ follow up to statements about the end of its City of Portland partnership
Friends of Trees | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information:
Yashar Vasef, Executive Director, [email protected]
Kathy Armstrong, Development & Communications Director, [email protected]
Adding context to statements made about the end of Friends of Trees’ partnership with the City of Portland
Portland Parks & Recreation and Portland Bureau of Environmental Services issued statements in response to Friends of Trees’ opinion piece regarding a report detailing the decrease in Portland’s tree canopy and the city ending its 14 year tree planting partnership with Friends of Trees; Friends of Trees addresses potential misperceptions
Portland, Ore. (April 8, 2022) – In response to a Sunday, April 3, Oregonian Op-Ed from Friends of Trees’ executive director Yashar Vasef, which addressed Portland’s tree canopy loss and the end of Friends of Trees’ partnership with the City of Portland to plant street and yard trees in the city, two City of Portland bureaus involved with tree planting issued statements that could be considered incomplete when taken out of context. Friends of Trees addresses those statements with a goal of as much transparency as possible:
The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), with which Friends of Trees has partnered since 2008, resulting in 40,000 street and yard trees planted in Portland neighborhoods, issued a statement confirming the end of the 14 year partnership. The statement also confirmed that BES is no longer planting street trees in light of “development of a street tree planting program by the Urban Forestry division at Portland Parks and Recreation.” BES goes on to share that it is shifting “its tree planting focus to private property, specifically commercial, industrial, and multifamily properties.” (the full statement is at the end of this release)
Vasef sheds some light on what seems to be missing from this new city tree planting strategy, “Yes, the BES contract is ending. We understand contracts end and we sincerely value the long and impactful partnership we had with BES. We’re proud of this work that has been replicated in other municipalities around the country and we’re heartened to hear that BES will continue to plant trees.
Vasef continues, “But the referenced plans do not speak to the community engagement model that we know has been a huge success. Addressing the inequities in our urban canopy and improving stewardship of trees will take a full community effort; government should continue to invest in community organizations that activate our neighbors and youth to help plant trees, and that help address inequities in our urban canopy by planting trees in neighborhoods that need it most. We are in a climate crisis and our response should be all hands on deck; and don’t forget, we all just learned that Portland’s tree canopy is actually decreasing, the city should be supporting as much tree planting as possible, not cutting back.”
Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) issued the following statement: “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 statement was shared with Friends of Trees by a media outlet, we were not provided with a contact name for this statement)
This statement only partially describes the actual situation and could suggest that there is still city investment in community tree planting. To clarify:
- This contract with PP&R is separate from the contracts Friends of Trees has had with the Bureau of Environmental Services since 2008. Those BES contracts are the contracts that have planted 40,000 street and yard trees with community volunteers over the past 14 years.
- 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 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.
- The $1 million reference could be 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 $1 million annually to plant trees through this contract with PP&R.
Vasef shares further information about Friends of Trees’ position regarding the end of our 14 year tree planting partnership with the city,
“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.
“In terms of Portland tree planting, Friends of Trees encourages the city to continue supporting community-based tree planting for the comprehensive benefits it provides. As of now, we know of no official plan by the city to continue the community-engagement model that brings out thousands of volunteers to plant and care for trees, that helps create climate advocates in our community, empowers neighbors to be stewards of our neighborhood trees, collaborates with BIPOC organizations through youth programming, plus so much more.
“In the face of increasingly severe impacts of climate change we wonder why the city is ending its support of a demonstrably successful model and pivoting to a do-it-alone approach. Government, nonprofits, and Portlanders should all be planting trees with urgency and government should be investing in these outcomes; government alone will not fix this issue.
“Addressing the inequities in our urban canopy and improving stewardship of trees will take a full community effort. We believe the government should invest in community organizations that can activate our neighbors and youth to help plant trees, that inspire community members to become vocal advocates for climate action, and that help address inequities in our urban canopy by planting trees together in neighborhoods that need it most. Once more, climate change is here and it’s all hands on deck!”
Full statement from BES (This statement was shared with Friends of Trees by a media outlet, we were not provided with a contact name for this statement):
The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) has held multiple contracts with Friends of Trees, focused on planting street trees throughout the city. The most recent contract was a five-year contract set 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 at Portland Parks and Recreation. This program included an on-call contract between Urban Forestry and Friends of Trees. With Urban Forestry’s new commitment to street tree plantings, BES saw an opportunity to shift its tree planting focus to private property, specifically commercial, industrial, and multifamily properties. The positive responses BES received from partnering business and property owners has been heartwarming – they are just as dedicated to the tree canopy and climate resilience as BES. To ensure a smooth transition of planting efforts from the right-of-way (street trees) to private property, 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 anticipated to earn the full amount in their contract. BES is passionate about ensuring a healthy watershed for our community and recognizes the tree canopy is integral to those goals.
Friends of Trees (FriendsofTrees.org)
Friends of Trees inspires people to improve the natural world around them through a simple solution: Planting Trees. Together.
Friends of Trees was founded in 1989 by a local community member who loved trees and started planting them in neighborhoods. Today, Friends of Trees is a nationally recognized, regional leader in improving the urban tree canopy and restoring sensitive natural areas—through programs delivered by thousands of volunteers. Friends of Trees has planted 900,000 trees and native plants in 120+ neighborhoods in six counties across two states in the 33 years since its founding.