Wrapping Up A Successful Season in Eugene

What a year in Eugene-Springfield! Every event was full of eager smiles, familiar faces, and enthusiastic treecipients. “There’s nothing better than a fantastic day of planting with community members,” says Volunteer & Program Specialist Taylor Glass. “We had so many great events this year. It’s a great way to connect.”

Even while adapting to the pandemic, the Eugene Branch has done so much to grow their program and expand their impact, and we wanted to report to you some of this season’s results.

  • Friends of Trees volunteers planted 524 trees at 12 events in Eugene and Springfield, and distributed 350 more at a tree give-away event.
  • 475 total volunteers donated over 1,500 hours of their time to these efforts. We have seen firsthand how planting and caring for trees increases community members’ engagement with the environment and participation in civic life.
  • We planted 86 different species of trees, many of which are climate resilient, to grow the diversity of our urban canopy.

The season saw so many highlights, like expanding the use of bicycles, planting trees at schools, and honoring the legacy of community leaders. We grew our relationship with the City of Springfield, an important geography for our equity work. This season’s work was all about being intentional.

“The pandemic, racial justice issues, and extreme heat of the last few years, have focused our urban tree planting work more on equity, sustainability, and resilience.” says Eugene Director Erik Burke.

This work couldn’t be done without our dedicated volunteers, partners, and sponsors. This summer, we will continue to work with volunteers on tree care and inspection, and we’ll be preparing for another incredible season come October!

Read more about what we’ve accomplished this year!

Planting Trees at Eugene Schools

Planting Trees at Charlemagne Elementary School

When you think of an elementary school campus, you probably think of sports fields and playgrounds. And you probably imagine trees—trees for kids to sit in the shade, or hide behind during a game of hide-and-seek, or to collect leaves from for their science classes. But a recent survey in Eugene found that the industrial areas of the city may actually have more canopy than the schools.

To help add trees at our communities’ schools, Friends of Trees did a planting at Charlemagne Elementary School in Southeast Eugene this year. The Eugene team was able to plant 32 street trees in the school’s right-of-way along Potter Street on the east side of the school’s campus. This right-of-way sees a lot of foot traffic from students. Studies show that cars drive more slowly on streets with more trees.

“We’d been hearing that students wanted trees at their school,” says Volunteer & Program Specialist Taylor Glass. “So we scouted out tree locations. The huge right-of-way had a ton of space for us to plant a whole bunch of large trees.”

The wide right-of-way allowed the team to plant trees that will grow into large shade trees, like Ponderosa Pine, Bald Cypress, Oregon White Oak, and Chinkapin Oak. The team made sure to have a mixture of both native and drought tolerant trees, so that the trees will survive and have a lasting impact on the campus. A volunteer from the neighborhood has committed to watering the trees during the first three years, while they get established.

While it’s a bit more complicated to get trees planted on the school grounds, the Eugene team could plant street trees on the right-of-way. Efforts are being made to plant on the school grounds, too.

“This has been one of our largest planting efforts at a school,” says Taylor. “We hope to be able to do more, both on the school grounds here and at other schools that could use more trees.”

The Eugene Branch’s Greenpower Grant

Expanding Equity and Sustainability Work with an EWEB Greenpower Grant

Eugene residents can support tree planting through Eugene Water and Electric Board’s Greenpower program. Residents can volunteer to donate one cent per kilowatt-hour toward funding environmental projects.

Friends of Trees is grateful to be a recipient of a Greenpower grant, which includes $50,000 over two years to plant trees in low income, high diversity neighborhoods that also have low canopy and high heat. As part of the effort to increase tree equity in Eugene, the trees are provided to residents for free through this program. We then engage treecipients in tree stewardship beyond the planting to ensure that the trees can have a sustained impact on their neighborhood.

“For just a penny for every kilowatt-hour, Eugene residents can help make their communities more sustainable,” said Cheryl Froehlich from EWEB to volunteers as she thanked them at the Friends of Trees’ Mangan Park planting event last month.

As part of this Greenpower grant funded work, Friends of Trees formed a productive partnership with members of the neighborhood association Active Bethel Community (ABC), City of Eugene, and local businesses.

When the neighborhood expressed interest in more street, yard, and park trees, we offered free street and yard trees to all neighborhood residents, and used equity mapping applications to choose two focus areas around neighborhood parks to do extra work. There, ABC residents went door to door to each house with a public planting space and talked to residents. Friends of Trees staff helped with site selection, questions and sign ups.

With funding from the Greenpower grant, the capstone of this year’s Friends of Trees work was putting on two planting events in West Eugene, in the Bethel neighborhoods around Gilbert Park and Mangan Park. To honor the mission of the grant and meet our own goals of increasing the sustainability of our events, we incorporated more bicycle crews. Both plantings had four bike crews and two carpool crews. We towed the gear and trees on bike trailers, and the volunteer planters either biked or walked from house to house.

Friends of Trees also hosted multiple free tree walks in each focus area park, and completed several additional smaller neighborhood plantings, tree walks, and community outreach events.

The City of Eugene made major contributions to the canopy in the same neighborhoods, with plantings in the focus area parks, pruning work in the neighborhood, and a major series of planting events on Highway 99, one of the main heat islands in Eugene.

“The pandemic, racial justice issues, and extreme heat of the last few years, have focused our urban tree planting work more intentionally on equity, sustainability, and resilience.” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “The Greenpower grant has allowed us to expand this work.”

We are excited to use Greenpower grant funding to grow and improve our work in Bethel and expand the approach to Trainsong neighborhood for next planting season.

Sourcing Trees for a Changing Eugene

Oregon myrtle

What trees should we be planting in a changing climate? That question has been top of mind for the Friends of Trees Eugene Branch for a long time.

“I remember saying, ‘in 50 years, Eugene will be like Sacramento.’” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “Well, I started saying that thirty years ago, and based on what we’ve seen, it’s not far off. We’ve ‘moved’ rapidly south in terms of what our climate is like, and the pace is picking up.”

The Eugene Branch has been planning accordingly. For the past decade, they have been sourcing and planting appropriately resilient trees in anticipation of the changing climate. “We have been planting native live oaks and other species for ten years now and are learning a lot.”

“We started with locally available trees that are drought tolerant and heat resilient, like Oregon white oak and silver linden.” Erik continues. “Then we asked the question, what trees are available in the nursery trade between here and Sacramento and what trees thrive in northern California cities? We began trialing California native oaks, crepe myrtle, Persian ironwood, chitalpa, and many other species that at that time were less common in the local nursery trade.”

Where do we get our trees? It’s a question we take very seriously. We source our trees from trusted nurseries that provide reliable stock. We are limited to some extent by what is available at nurseries, and that has a lot to do with consumer demand. So it’s no surprise that planning for a future urban forest can get a little tricky when it comes to getting the actual trees, especially with our commitment to an ethos of right tree, right place.

Historically, many consumers have been motivated in their tree choices by aesthetics and comfort–they want trees that remind them of where they came from. Fortunately, we are seeing an increasing consumer demand for natives and climate resilient trees. The Eugene team is working with local nurseries that will take seeds or liners (baby trees) and grow them out to planting size. They are also growing out many of these trees themselves.

“Some nurseries are open to growing climate resilient trees,” Erik says. A great success story is Oregon white oak, which only recently has become a profitable part of the nursery trade. “During my time working on trees in Eugene,” Erik says, “we’ve seen Oregon white oak go from a little used tree to one of the most common street trees we plant each year.”

Oregon White Oak

It gets more difficult when it comes to the California trees, which the Eugene chapter initially began importing because they were not readily available in Oregon. “Shipping trees up from California risks importing a pest or disease and burns more diesel,” Erik says. “So we are partnering with nurseries to grow seeds and liners from California species here, and growing them ourselves.”  The Eugene team is also exploring new additions from other summer-drought regions of the world with similar climates, like the Mediterranean, but these trees need to be run through a filter for potential invasiveness.

To open up their options, Erik has started growing trees himself. “It’s a huge learning challenge,” Erik says. “There’s a lot to learn about horticulture.” He started with a few trees in his yard, but he has learned enough to lease land to expand the operation. “I’ve got a 440’ row of seeds and about 500 seedlings and 350 containers planted at a nursery this season and will expand substantially next year.”

Some of the species he’s excited about growing are: blue oak, California black oak, valley oak, canyon live oak, Oregon myrtle, madrone, Isla, toyon, chinquapin, and many more.

By selecting trees for their resilience and for the benefits that they can provide, Erik hopes that people can move their preferences away from pure aesthetic value and appreciate trees for their benefits to nature, functionality, and what he calls, “a beauty related to their fittingness in the landscape.”

The Eugene Branch Walks the Talk in their own Backyard

A year ago, if you were to look out the back window of the Friends of Trees office in Eugene, you might look past the small backyard and see nearly a block of impermeable surfaces, power lines, parking lots and buildings. But our staff saw an opportunity, and went about converting their backyard into an oasis of nature.

“We had left our mark at our last office,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. There, they partnered with City of Eugene on a Trees for Concrete project, removing concrete and planting eight trees along the busy street outside the old office—two Oregon white oaks, two California black oaks (see this month’s Leaflet for why Oaks are such an awesome choice), three Persian ironwoods, and a Chinese pistache, as well as valley pine and bigleaf maples on the east side of the building.

After moving one block south to a new office, they were compelled to do something similar. “It’s the only unpaved patch in a sea of concrete,” says Erik. “We wanted to make the most of it.”

“We try to walk the talk,” says Volunteer & Program Specialist Taylor Glass. So they pulled away all the grass and weeds, put down cardboard and mulch, and put in a variety of native, drought tolerant, and pollinator friendly plants: 2 Oregon white oaks, red flowering currant, Douglas’ aster, camas, showy milkweed, manzanita, and nootka rose (and some volunteer California poppies have made the backyard their home too!).

“Douglas aster is one of the best plants for pollinators due to its really long bloom time,” Taylor says. “Last year the asters in our backyard continued blooming into October!”

“We wanted all the plants to be climate resilient and drought tolerant,” Erik Says. “After a few years of getting the plants established, we hope to never have to water, no matter what climate change throws at us.”

It’s all about making an impact and leaving a legacy in their community. They are benefiting from that legacy already. In front of the office are bigleaf maples that were planted 14 years ago as part of another Trees For Concrete program, back when FOT Eugene was still the Eugene Tree Foundation. “We planted them many years ago, not knowing that we would end up getting to enjoy them outside our office,” Erik says.

Now the office’s backyard has grown into a beautiful native plant garden, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and giving our staff a daily dose of inspiration.