Friends of Trees recognizes that not everyone has equal access to the benefit of trees.
Friends of Trees will always strive to be a welcoming and safe place for everyone, regardless of age, ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political views or economic status. Without our volunteers, we are nothing. But together we do amazing things.
This statement is included at the beginning of all Friends of Trees public planting events
As a community driven organization we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and support, and we strive to build places that are safer and healthy for all. We accomplish this through authentic community conversation; unique partnerships; relevant programming; and attracting and retaining diverse staff and supporters.
Friends of Trees’ Equity and Diversity Inclusion Committee is a standing committee comprised of board and staff who recommend readings and workshops, organize trainings, and review our programs and materials through an equity lens. We use deliberate outreach and communication strategies toward engaging a diverse range of volunteers and tree-recipients. Our board of directors identifies as 55% BIPOC and 66% women; our staff identifies as 53% BIPOC; 50% women; 43% men; 3% gender queer; 3% non-binary.
Community planting goes beyond getting trees in the ground. Friends of Trees’ programs engages volunteers of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, and political views to plant and care for trees together. Our programming cultivates partnerships that center climate justice and engages people from historically underserved communities to directly play a part in improving the health and livability of their neighborhoods. We administer environmental education and internships that expand opportunities to enter the green workforce. Authentically engaging communities is crucial toward achieving climate justice.
Most people by now are fairly well attuned to the benefits of trees environmentally, socially, mentally, and more. However, less people are aware of how tree canopy is distributed among a city and its neighborhoods.
A trend across the country in large cities is that trees, and the benefits they bring, are distributed inequitably across neighborhoods based on race and income. Higher income neighborhoods with majority white residents have over 75% tree canopy coverage as compared to lower-income neighborhoods with around 15-30% canopy cover. These are large discrepancies that result in hotter environments, more air pollution, and factors contributing to respiratory conditions like asthma for children.
These trends are reality here in Portland: west Portland (excluding Forest Park) has about 75% canopy cover in most neighborhoods, while east Portland neighborhoods average about 15-30% canopy cover. Friends of Trees prioritizes planting street and yard trees in neighborhoods on the eastside of Portland to help decrease this disparity.
However, many people are wary about – if not outright opposed to – getting a tree of their own because of the costs of tree care, which can increase as a tree grows. This is just one of the reasons Friends of Trees provides tree care along with tree planting, including proper pruning of young trees at no cost to the property owner. And we’re exploring ways to increase the availability of low to no cost tree care for folks who need it, because we know the benefits of trees far outweigh the costs.
In the City of Portland, tree care and maintenance costs are the responsibility of the tree’s adjacent property owner. This is an inequitable financial burden for low-income households, renters, and populations vulnerable to gentrification. Many communities of color cite the financial burdens that a mature tree can bring as a reason to not want to plant trees next to their houses. It’s important to address these very valid concerns since trees have so many benefits, which is why Friends of Trees is continually working on creating programming that is responsive to community needs; in fact, we have funding proposals pending with Portland’s Clean Energy Fund that would help subsidize costs of mature tree care so we can grow our already considerable post-planting tree care services.
Understanding concerns about tree care
In 2018, Friends of Trees partnered with APANO and LARA Media to conduct three focus groups toward better understanding how community members viewed neighborhood trees and tree planting efforts. To increase accessibility these focus groups were conducted in multiple different languages including Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Spanish. Overall, many community members cited the benefits of trees within the city, including their health and environmental benefits:
“Trees are good for the lungs. They are the lungs of the city.”
“In the city, there’s big trees that make the air cooler. It also makes the city greener.”
–participants from the Vietnamese focus group
However, when asked if there are barriers for them to plant trees, many community members cited the long-term costs associated with mature tree care. One participant said: “One of the negatives is that sometimes Portland has a lot of storms and trees fall down when there’s strong wind. I experienced that once. The tree can fall into the house and collapse the house. Usually I try to hire a professional to cut the tree, but it [can cost] thousands of dollars. The tree bothers us.”
Trees and access to the natural environment are integral to healthy, livable neighborhoods. The benefits trees bring are strongest when they are mature, at least 10-15 years after they are planted. However, the fears community members have about the costs trees may bring are also valid, especially since the median household income on the eastside of Portland is lower and there are fears of being pushed out.
Friends of Trees is committed to equitably growing the urban forest through community-centered tree plantings. We offer tree care for the first three years of a tree’s life after it’s planted, including affordable (or free if cost is a prohibiting factor) summer watering service; free mulch; and structural pruning provided at no cost (see the next story for more about our pruning program). Structural pruning on a young tree is vital for its long term health, and can help prevent limbs falling onto a house or car later on in its life, since we can prune for the built environment and the tree will grow into that structure.
However, Friends of Trees also recognizes there are long term costs and concerns that need more support within our communities to make sure the urban forest is distributed equitably. We are continually working on creating programming that is responsive to community needs and when the opportunity arises we pursue grant funding to help subsidize costs of mature tree care. Because we know that, all in all, the positives of trees far outweigh the negatives; as our good friends at J Frank Schmidt like to say, “Trees are the answer.”
Photo: Street tree planting in east Portland, January 2020.
Engaging Community to Take Climate Action
We know that trees fight climate change. And here at Friends of Trees our experience partnering with thousands of community members tells us that the volunteer experience also helps fight climate change – because folks who volunteer to plant and care for trees often go on to become involved with other environmental issues, including taking climate action.
We’re excited to share that through our partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), Portland State University’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, OHSU-PSU Joint School of Public Health, and Willamette Partnership, we should soon have quantitative and additional qualitative data to support this. This project recognizes that “where one lives or works, one’s age, if one has pre-existing health conditions or chronic illnesses, and race or income all impacts how and how much climate change harms health.” Friends of Trees’ efforts over the past 20+ years of planting in east Portland and other low-canopy, underserved neighborhoods also recognizes this, and this partnership takes these efforts to the next level, especially around community involvement.
“Engaging with historically marginalized communities about where neighborhood change needs to happen and how it might happen are the first steps to ensuring an equitable urban forestry program.”
– Dr. Vivek Shandas, PSU, School of Urban Studies
A major project milestone is the formation of a community advisory board, facilitated by APANO, and comprised of people who live in, work in, or regularly engage with east Portland’s Jade District. Participants include a Friends of Trees tree recipient, a PSU student, a middle school student, a Rosemary Anderson High School/POIC graduate, a biology educator, and Multnomah County representation. Upcoming CAB activities include a live tree walk in the Jade District, exploring topics such as infrastructure challenges to adding trees (e.g., with so many parking lots, where and how do we plant trees?) and how to address these challenges.
“What’s really exciting about this project is the community advisory board, which isn’t something we usually have the resources to develop.” Michelle Yasutake, Friends of Trees Green Space Program Manager
Michelle’s project role involves a major project milestone, the formation of a community advisory board, facilitated by APANO, and comprised of people who live in, work in, or regularly engage with east Portland’s Jade District. Dr. Shandas is also a strong supporter of direct community involvement, “By integrating community voices with our technical know-how, this project is identifying ‘nature-based solutions’ in areas that have been neglected and disinvested by regional decision makers.”
Friends of Trees wants to do even more to engage people in the community in project planning and prioritizing, and we know that the best way to achieve diverse and authentic representation is to be able to provide stipends in consideration of the time it takes people to participate. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognizes the value of this and its grant includes funding for these stipends. Michelle further emphasizes the importance of community involvement,
“This project, and the community advisory board, are so important to Friends of Trees’ goals around equity, diversity and inclusion and our efforts to genuinely work with the people who actually live and work in the community, and to do so in a way that ensures community members feel like they are truly a part of the process.”
Next steps in the project include data collection through surveying the community; we’re asking questions about neighborhood involvement, civic engagement such as voting, the impact of COVID on household income, and more. We’ll also take on a tangible project such as adding green infrastructure (trees, bioswales, shrubs) to a site identified as a priority by the community; and we’ll be using a research tool called Photovoice.
Photovoice is a hands-on, photography-based research method designed to help community members identify and discuss important community issues and take social action. Photovoice involves using cameras/smartphones to visually document, describe, and discuss important community concerns.
For this Photovoice project, adult and youth community residents will use photography and digital mapping to collaboratively identify and map out important climate, greenspace, and community health concerns—centering the perspectives of residents of East Portland and the Jade District. This will include identifying specific places and spaces that represent important locations of daily climate and greenspace experiences. The goal is to create new local climate and community health data that prioritizes community lived experience and knowledge, such that the data can be used to respond to specific community concerns.
The purpose of this partnership is to “Examine the physical and social dimensions of a tree planting program as a strategy to improve public health and mitigate climate change.” East Portland is one of seven communities across the country where RWJF is studying health, health equity and climate change solutions through its Culture of Health Action Framework, marking RWJF’s first foray into climate health solutions. As this project progresses we’ll share more milestones and updates, so stay tuned!
Photo at top: Friends of Trees East Portland tree planting event, November 2019.
Underserved and BIPOC communities access training & paid internships
As we prepare for the fourth year of offering the Adult Urban Forestry Workforce Training Program there is one thing we know for certain: The community wants this programming. We hear from program participants and partners that this programming is filling a gap through connecting communities underrepresented in the urban forestry and restoration field—primarily communities of color—to training and job opportunities they otherwise would not have.
Over the years program partners have included Verde, APANO, Wisdom of the Elders, Rosemary Anderson High School-POIC, Black Parent Initiative, and the Blueprint Foundation. These organizations help select 10-15 program participants each year, who begin with classroom curriculum and field work, and proceed to paid internships. Read more about the Adult Urban Forestry Workforce Training Program here.
Of course, like everything, COVID forced some changes. What began as a challenge—providing classwork via Zoom—actually turned into a benefit: automatic translation. Which was especially important this year since two program participants, Rogelia and Leticia, speak Spanish. We caught up with Rogelia and Leticia recently, who are both interning with Honl Tree Care, to talk about their experience with this program. Rogelia shares,
“I found out about the program with Friends of Trees from Verde. I was really interested in learning more and meeting more people, so I decided to do it. After the classes, I began to work with Honl Tree Care and it has been such a great experience, I loved getting to work alongside other people and learn how to use new machines. I was able to use the machine that took branches and turned them into mulch. The machines were very new to me—I never knew how the wood chips were made!
“The best part has been learning about new places, new neighborhoods, new parks that I didn’t even know existed, that has been fun. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do next, that is the grand question! I do know that I want to work outside, I love working outside in nature.”
Leticia also appreciated spending time with other people and echoes Rogelia’s praise for their intern hosts, Chad and Isabel at Honl Tree Care. She joined the program because, “I like trees and I wanted to know more about tree care and how trees are planted.”
The Adult Urban Forestry Training Program is possible thanks to funding from the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District. We are pursuing additional funding to ensure this program continues, and grows! Meanwhile, we look forward to introducing you to the next round of interns this fall (If you or someone you know may be interested, please let us know!)—just in time for tree planting season.
Photo, top: Future arborist at work! View from an intern from the training program
Comunidades marginadas y BIPOC obtienen entrenamiento y aprendizaje pagado.
Mientras nos preparamos para el cuarto año de ofrecer el Programa de Capacitación de la Fuerza Laboral Forestal Urbana para Adultos, hay una cosa que sabemos con certeza: la comunidad quiere este programa. Escuchamos a los participantes y colaboradores del programa que este programa está llenando un vacío al conectar a las comunidades con poca representación en el campo de la silvicultura urbana y la restauración-principalmente comunidades de color-con oportunidades de entrenamiento y oportunidades de trabajo que de otro modo no tendrían.
En los último años, los colaboradores del programa han incluido a Verde, APANO, Wisdom of the Elders, Rosemary Anderson High School-POIC, Black Parent Initiative y Blueprint Foundation. Estas organizaciones ayudan a seleccionar de 10 a 15 participantes del programa cada año, que comienzan con el plan de estudios en la clase y trabajo de campo, y continúan con prácticas pagadas. Lea más sobre el Programa de Entrenamiento de la Fuerza Laboral Forestal Urbana para Adultos aquí.
Por supuesto, como todo, COVID forzó algunos cambios. Lo que comenzó como una dificultad-proporcionar trabajo en clase a través de Zoom- se convirtió en un beneficio: la traducción automática. Lo cual fue especialmente importante este año ya que dos participantes del programa, Rogelia y Leticia, hablan español. Recientemente, nos reunimos con Rogelia y Leticia, quienes están haciendo un entrenamiento con Honl Tree Care, para hablar sobre su experiencia con este programa. Rogelia comparte,
“Me enteré del programa con Friends of Trees por Verde. Estaba realmente interesada en aprender más y conocer más gente, así que decidí hacerlo. Después de las clases, comencé a trabajar con Honl Tree Care y ha sido una gran experiencia, me encantó trabajar junto a otras personas y aprender a usar nuevas máquinas. Pude usar la máquina que tomaba ramas y las convertía en mantillo. Las máquinas eran muy nuevas para mí, ¡nunca sabía cómo se fabricaban las astillas de madera!
“La mejor parte ha sido aprender sobre nuevos lugares, nuevos vecindarios, nuevos parques que ni siquiera sabía que existían, eso ha sido divertido. No sé exactamente qué haré a continuación, ¡esa es la gran pregunta! Sé que quiero trabajar al aire libre, me encanta trabajar al aire libre en la naturaleza”.
Leticia también agradeció pasar tiempo con otras personas y hace eco los elogios de Rogelia hacia sus anfitriones internos, Chad e Isabel en Honl Tree Care. Se entró en el programa porque “me gustan los árboles y quería saber más sobre el cuidado de los árboles y cómo se plantan”.
El Programa de Capacitación en Silvicultura Urbana para Adultos es posible gracias a la financiación del Distrito de Conservación de Agua y Suelo de East Multnomah. ¡Estamos buscando fondos adicionales para asegurar que este programa continúe y crezca! Mientras tanto, esperamos poder presentarle al próximo grupo de participantes este otoño (si usted o alguien que conoces está interesado, ¡avísanos!), Justo a tiempo para la temporada de plantación de árboles.
Foto, Arriba: ¡Futuro arbolista en el trabajo! Vista de un estudiante del programa de entrenamiento