Creating Inclusive Planting Events in NE Portland

With Verde, Friends of Trees put on its first Spanish-language led event

While planting trees at a home on Going Street in Northeast Portland, Bella reminded her mother Maria that she wanted to speak Spanish for the entire event. Her mom smiled, and continued her question to Crew Leader Ana in Spanish. Everyone on this particular crew was bilingual, but they embraced the spirit of the event and led with Spanish.

While Friends of Trees has had Spanish-led crews at past events, this planting was the first ever event to be led in Spanish. Friends of Trees partnered with Verde to plan the event and recruit volunteers.

“It was our first ever opening announcements in Spanish, our first Crew Leader huddle in Spanish,” said Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Andrew Land, the planting lead for the event and one of the several Friends of Trees staff who speaks Spanish.

The event’s Crew Leaders were all Líderes Verdes, a Verde program supporting the leadership development of Cully’s Latine community. Crew Leaders like Ana organized planters, distributed tools, and demonstrated planting techniques entirely in Spanish.

“We get a lot of people at our events who are bilingual, but I love that we flipped it on its head and led with Spanish,” Andrew said. “It allows us to put Spanish speakers squarely in their comfort zone.”

When a crew showed up to plant at a tree recipient’s home near Fernhill Park, the homeowner happily dusted off her Spanish skills to talk with the crew.

The event was smaller and more intimate than most of our neighborhood plantings, but it still made for a lively and productive morning. Four crews planted 32 trees, and celebrated over a pozole lunch.

“We wanted to keep it small to make sure it went smoothly,” Andrew said. “It went great, and hopefully this is the first of many Spanish events.”

This planting is part of the Clean Air Canopy project. When a NE Portland glass plant reached a settlement with Oregon DEQ related to compliance with their air quality permit, a portion of the penalty contributed funds to approved local environmental projects, including planting trees. Friends of Trees, with partners Verde, Cully Association of Neighbors, and Cully Air Action Team, have focused on making sure these plantings are beneficial and inclusive to the communities they serve.

Your voice is needed for more trees in Portland

A new tree in East Portland - planted by volunteers!

We need your voice to help make sure that tree planting efforts in Portland are equitable, inclusive and community-driven.

You may have heard of the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), approved by voters in November 2018. PCEF is intended to provide a consistent, long-term funding source to ensure that our community’s climate action efforts support social, economic and environmental benefits for all Portlanders, particularly communities of color and people with low incomes.

PCEF has dedicated $40 million for tree planting and tree care. The Equitable Tree Canopy Program will work in Portland’s most heat-vulnerable neighborhoods to equitably plant and establish 15,000 – 25,000 trees on public and private property.

Friends of Trees testified at City Council in support of this exciting initiative and continues to be engaged in the process, partaking in three roundtable conversations that helped inform the current draft of the Equitable Tree Canopy Program.

Right now, PCEF is looking for feedback on the working draft, which you can review here. Feedback is due by March 2, 2023 and can be made through emailing [email protected]. Friends of Trees needs your help to promote these points:

  • Authentic community involvement in implementing the tree planting program. We recognize that the government, as the funding instrument, plays a role, but we know through 34 years of community tree planting that inclusive community engagement is key to ensuring buy-in and long-term success.
  • Flexibility in funding language. This is a new endeavor with a lot of funds available and a very ambitious goal. It’s critical that the City and PCEF allow for language that is responsive to community needs as this program is implemented and evolves.
  • Opt-in approaches for street AND yard tree planting. This means tree recipients proactively say Yes to a tree as a result of community based outreach and education. Friends of Trees knows that the opt-in method helps ensure that the trees that are planted survive and thrive because of the tree recipients’ buy-in.
  • Include funding for planting yard trees. We all know the benefits that street trees provide, like shaded sidewalks and cooler neighborhoods. We also know that many folks don’t have planting strips where they can plant a street tree, but do have space for yard trees, and others really want fruit trees (which aren’t the best street trees). The more trees the better!

This is not only a historic funding opportunity, it’s a chance for the City to take giant strides toward authentic community engagement through a structure that entrusts community organizations to co-manage the tree planting funds. And we’re set up for success with a model like this: Friends of Trees and other community stakeholders such as Verde and the Jade Greening Project have successful track records with authentic community engagement, community tree planting, and collaborating to achieve common goals inclusively and equitably.

Public comment periods are your chance to have your voice heard. Join us in supporting funding for community tree planting for years to come!

The Lifesaving Potential of Trees

A new scientific study associates tree planting with fewer deaths

At Friends of Trees, we champion the many benefits of urban trees: they clean the air and water, provide wildlife habitat, and shade our homes and streets. Trees improve our environment, but they also improve our quality of life. Dr. Geoffrey Donovan, a researcher with the United States Forest Service, wanted to investigate one step further — do trees save lives?

In 2013, Donovan conducted a study that associated a loss of trees from emerald ash borer with a higher rate of mortality for people that lived in those places that lost trees.

“I wanted to see if the inverse was true,” Donovan says. “Would planting more trees be associated with fewer deaths?”

Luckily, Donovan had access to years worth of tree planting data from Friends of Trees. Specifically, he used the planting data from the nearly 50,000 trees that Friends of Trees planted in Portland neighborhoods since 1990.

The new study, published in December 2022 in the journal Environmental International, found that each tree planted was associated with significant reductions in non-accidental and cardiovascular mortality. To account for other possible explanations for the mortality rate like race, education, and income, the statistical models incorporated data from the American Community Survey.

Looking at all 140 census tracts in Portland, Donovan showed that on average, 11.7 new trees in each neighborhood were associated with 15.6 fewer non-accidental deaths and five fewer cardiovascular deaths each year.

“It’s incredible,” says Friends of Trees Executive Director Yashar Vasef. “We know that trees can transform a community, but it’s really meaningful to see the data analysis.”

As the trees mature, their benefit grows too. Trees planted within the past 11-15 years had twice the impact of trees planted within the last five.

“The association is unequivocal, but the study has its limitations,” Donovan says. The study stops short of proving a definitive causal relationship between planting trees and fewer deaths, but Donovan expressed confidence in his findings, saying, “we do think it’s likely that trees are saving lives in Portland, because we accounted for a lot of other explanations.”

One way the study was able to account for other explanations was by focusing on the change in trees compared to the change in mortality rate. The totality of canopy can vary widely by neighborhood, but each new tree can make a difference regardless of where it’s planted.

The study went on to associate the reduced death rate with an incredible economic benefit, based on the EPA’s statistical value of a human life. Planting one tree in each of the 140 census tracts in Portland is associated with a reduction in non-accidental death of 1.33, which has a statistical value of $14.2 million. To plant and care for those 140 trees would cost just $3,000-$13,000.

“In short, trees are cheap and human lives are valuable,” Donovan says. “The public money that went to Friends of Trees generated remarkable rates of return.”

The City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services did not renew its partnership with Friends of Trees that added 40,000 street and yard trees in Portland over 14 years. Friends of Trees is still planting in Northeast Portland as part of the Clean Air Canopy project, and in 17 municipalities throughout Western Oregon and Southwest Washington.

“Beyond the incredible findings, this study points to the importance of robust data collection,” Yashar says. “By diligently tracking this information, we are creating huge data sets that scientists can use in their research. And then that research can help us do our work better.” Friends of Trees logs the location, species, and planting date of every tree it plants.

“Friends of Trees data has been enormously helpful to me,” Donovan says. “I would love to see even closer collaboration between practitioners and scientists.”

Clean Air & Community in Cully

NE Portland neighborhoods come together to plant for environmental justice

Earlier this month, 110 volunteers gathered in the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland for the first planting of our Clean Air Canopy project. The first volunteers to arrive to a planting event are the staging volunteers, who organize tools and trees for all the crews. At Cully, all of the staging volunteers were also treecipients—they’d have their own tree planted in their yard as part of the day’s activities. They were so excited to help, to get to know each other, and to help get trees planted, not just in their own yard but in their community.

“There was a lot of camaraderie from the get-go,” said Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Litzy Venturini. “It was a really positive morning with great energy from the moment I got there.”

This Clean Air Canopy project is the result of an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality lawsuit against a polluter in the neighborhood. The DEQ fined the facility and granted funds to Friends of Trees and our partners to lead community tree plantings in the area. This project would not be possible without our partners: Verde, the Cully Air Action Team (CAAT), and the Cully Association of Neighbors. Verde and CAAT’s advocacy work held this polluter accountable and led to this project’s creation.

“Polluted air and water are one of the biggest environmental injustices we face,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Andrew Land. “Tree planting is among the most instant-impact civic actions you can perform.”

That sentiment was shared among volunteers, who were grateful to turn this negative—pollution—into a positive thing for their neighborhood. Volunteer crews planted 100 trees, and 31 different species of trees.

“Diversity in nature equates to resilience,” Andrew says. “Isolated species are very vulnerable in nature. If a pest or disease in the future attacks one of the species we’ve planted, we’ll still have many more out there to continue protecting us from air pollution from off highways.”

A special aspect to the day was that we had an entirely Spanish-speaking crew, led by Friends of Trees Field Tech Manuel Ku. That crew consisted of Los Líderes Verdes, who were training to become crew leaders themselves as part of our collaboration with Verde.

“It was a great day,” Litzy said. “There was that community feeling that makes events so special.”