Connecting Black urban youth to the environment

Meet The Blueprint Foundation

“I like the feeling of getting my hands dirty because I feel like I did something. It’s a good feeling.”

Lashay, Friends of Trees intern through the Blueprint Foundation

Friends of Trees is fortunate to have relationships with quite a few local nonprofit organizations that benefit under-served communities, such as communities of color, at-risk youth, and neighborhoods with very little tree canopy. These partnerships help make trees accessible to community members who may not otherwise have access to all that trees do for us.

The Blueprint Foundation works to expose Black urban youth to learning opportunities they usually do not get to access. Friends of Trees is proud to be a partner to the Blueprint Foundation’s Grounding Waters program, where students learn about careers in environmental science while taking an active role in environmental stewardship.

“One of the first and most consistent activities we’ve had our kids do is the Friends of Trees neighborhood plantings, which allows them to connect with their neighbors, as well as do something directly beneficial to their own community, that they see, that has permanence.” – Jason Stroman, Program Director, The Blueprint Foundation; Friends of Trees Board of Directors

The Friends of Trees – Blueprint Foundation partnership introduces Black youth to jobs in the urban forestry field. Students receive stipends to gain job and leadership skills through training and participating with Friends of Trees as Summer Tree Inspectors and tree planting Crew Leaders.

The Blueprint-Friends of Trees partnership helps connect young people to the environment, while also supporting a historically underrepresented community’s access to nature and its benefits by decreasing barriers to participation. “The ultimate goal,” Jason points out, “is to eliminate the opportunity gap that we see for Black youth.”

Learn more about the Blueprint Foundation’s work to “to uplift, educate, and support the development of black-identified youth and other communities of color.”

 

Friends of Tree Eugene honors MLK Jr with day of service

Mattie Reynolds Park was the perfect site for our MLK Day of Service.

Along with 17 new trees, a new park in the City of Eugene has great historical significance. Mattie Reynolds Park, the site of our January 18th Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service, honors one of Eugene’s founding Black families, Sam and Mattie Reynolds. The Reynolds’ fight for civil rights was one of their many important contributions to Eugene and the surrounding area, and adding trees to the park that bears their name seems a fitting MLK Day event.

Friends of Trees Eugene, and the City of Eugene, with sponsorship support from Mountain Rose Herbs, hosted the community tree planting event that added the new trees to Mattie Reynolds Park, along with planting 31 trees in surrounding neighborhoods.

The day’s featured speaker was Pastor Deleesa Meashintubby from St. Mark CME Church, the oldest African American church in Eugene. Also in attendance, along with many community volunteers, were Sam and Mattie Reynolds’ daughter and granddaughter. We’re honored to have played even a small role in helping establish this important tribute to the Reynolds family.

Look for Eugene volunteer opportunities here, and donate to Friends of Trees Eugene here – all donations from addresses in Lane County support FOTE. Thank you!

Photo: Community volunteers plant trees at Mattie Reynolds Park. Photo courtesy of Dean Walton.

Get to Know our pruning program – 2,000 trees pruned this season!

Pruning trees contributes to a more equitable community. Or, more accurately, pruning trees at no cost contributes to a more equitable, livable community.

 How? We’ve learned that a major barrier to many households getting a street tree is the cost of maintaining the tree. Pruning can be very expensive, and it gets more expensive as the tree ages and grows if problems are not addressed early. Properly pruning a tree when young is an excellent investment and can delay or even prevent future expenses, making a tree more affordable. Pruning young trees at no cost by trained Friends of Trees volunteers is one important way to help get more trees into more neighborhoods, especially under-served, low-income communities which are often communities of color impacted by systemic disparities.  That is exactly why Friends of Trees is focusing efforts on specifically those communities who will benefit the most.

Our pruning program also benefits youth through our educational partnerships. While we are pruning trees we are also training young people to prune. Through partnerships with organizations like Rosemary Anderson HS POIC, student interns in our pruning program earn an hourly stipend while building valuable job skills. Pruning skills can be developed and honed in preparation for becoming an ISA-certified arborist – a very solid living with excellent job security. Added bonus: Exposing young people to the benefits of trees and tree care contributes to a greater appreciation of trees and nature, helping to grow the next generation’s Tree Team.

Pruning = longer lived, healthier trees = healthier planet + people. The benefits of trees—oxygen creation, pollution and stormwater absorption, healthier humans (DYK that trees help combat cardiac and respiratory ailments and can even contribute to increased birthweights?), and so much more—increase exponentially as trees grow and age. And the earlier a tree is properly pruned, the greater the chance it will grow to a ripe old age benefitting neighborhoods and the planet for generations to come.

Pruning for structure (shape) and clearance (sidewalks and streets) is the primary way to steward and care for a tree post-establishment. Proper pruning contributes to the long-term health of the tree, while lack of pruning, or pruning incorrectly, will contribute to the premature demise of the tree.  Pruning in the built environment (as opposed to a natural setting) is also key to preventing tree-related damage following inclement weather.

There’s another reason pruning young trees is better: It’s easier for the tree to recover from pruning when it’s young than it is when the tree is more mature (trees have to “recover” after any sort of pruning, good or bad, it’s just far more efficient for them to recover from careful “surgery” by a trained pruner as opposed to “natural” pruning by snow/ice + wind). When pruned, a tree immediately gets to work “sealing” the cut, working to close off the wound.

When pruning young trees, we have the opportunity to make a 5-cent cut today to prevent the need for a $100 cut 20 years down the road (or, so the saying kind of goes ;).  Not only is it more cost-effective to properly prune young trees, the larger the pruning cut (because the limbs are larger), the longer it takes the tree to recover. A tree can quickly seal and move beyond a ¼” cut made with hand pruners, but it may takes years to recover from an 8” diameter cut made with a chainsaw (and it may never recover at all). BTW, trees don’t actually “heal,” they seal or compartmentalize and – once recovered – they then grow more vigorously.

With all the benefits of pruning it’s a good thing our pruning program is so popular with volunteers (100+ pruning volunteers every year!), since volunteer-power is the only way we’ll be able to prune 2,000 trees this season. Pruning is especially popular right now as it’s pretty pandemic-resistant: pruning is not a large group activity and it takes place 100% outdoors. In fact, it’s because of COVID that this will be the biggest pruning season yet, with a 40% increase in trees pruned over last season! BTW, we’ll prune any young street tree in our service area (6” diameter or smaller), not just the trees we plant – all at no cost (thanks in large part to our partners at City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services).

Pruning trees properly contributes to the health of the tree and to those who live under its canopy. We of course want the trees we plant to grow and thrive, and proper pruning when young is key to tree health, so pruning is an important part of our Neighborhood Trees program. Need more information? Visit our tree resources page for more information about tree care and the benefits of trees. Ready for a tree of your own? Get started here!

Photo: Youth interns learning to prune, part of our Rosemary Anderson High School/POIC partnership; August 2020.

Tree Care + Equity

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.

The Eugene Branch: Trees, tree care, and equity

Friends of Trees strives to plant and care for trees in a way that is equitable and inclusive. For Friends of Trees Eugene that means updating our processes and working with our partners to reach parts of town that are underserved and more diverse.

In the past, as Eugene Tree Foundation, plantings focused in the downtown core and in south Eugene where volunteers lived. When we became Friends of Trees in 2009, we immediately expanded our service area to Springfield and underserved parts of Eugene, beginning with three 2010 plantings in Trainsong, a historically underserved neighborhood.

In the past, trees weren’t necessarily planted where they were needed most – in underserved neighborhoods. In recent years the process was improved to include an equity lens in order to diversify planting locations, and as a result West Eugene, which is more diverse and historically underserved than other neighborhoods, has become a priority location for new street trees in Eugene. We also prioritize planting trees in Springfield, which, like West Eugene, is more diverse and historically underserved.

 Friends of Trees Eugene’s Pruning Program also strives to deliver valuable tree care services in an equitable fashion, again, prioritizing West Eugene until it’s “caught up” in terms of trees pruned. We prune 250-300 trees every season, thanks to our City of Eugene partnership (which funds pruning for 200 trees) and community support from donors such as Sperry Tree Care–and thanks to the trained community pruners who volunteer to provide critical care to young trees.

Friends of Trees has partnered with the City of Eugene on pruning programs for nearly 30 years; in the summer of 2020 we began choosing our sites through an equity filter, with a much greater focus on work in west Eugene. We’re hopeful about the City of Eugene’s ability to invest further in community-based pruning, toward meeting our goal of pruning every tree we plant at least once, ideally twice. FOTE intends to build our community tree care program to do more good work in Eugene and Springfield’s underserved neighborhoods.

Interested in supporting tree planting and tree care in Eugene and Springfield? Look for volunteer opportunities here, and donate to Friends of Trees Eugene here – all donations from addresses in Lane County support our local office here. Thank you!

Photo: One of our first planting events in the Trainsong neighborhood, 2010.