How the Eugene-Springfield team is starting the 2023 season
In Eugene and Springfield, Friends of Trees has been growing a robust community of tree stewards through their community pruning events. They’re about halfway through their slate of seven pruning events, each one with a small but mighty crew of pruners. By keeping these events intimate, each pruner gets plenty of hands-on experience.
“Young tree pruning is the most cost effective thing you can do for an urban forest,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “It’s a great experience for volunteers. We have a lot of regulars, and some new folks too.”
The Eugene Springfield team will kick off their season as they always do with another planting along Northwest Expressway on November 4th. This year will be the monumental Phase 10 of this planting project. It’s a prime example of putting trees in places where there’s plenty of room for trees and the benefits they provide. The team is able to plant large species, and also plant shrubs and bulbs to create a multi-level habitat for pollinators and wildlife. As each phase matures it does more and more to clean the air from the expressway and the railroad.
One of the most exciting things happening in Eugene this season will be the expansion of our equity work into high priority neighborhoods. With funding from an EWEB Greenpower Grant, the Bethel, Trainsong, and Far West neighborhoods will each get planting events, increased engagement, and more trees!
“We want to continue focusing our urban tree planting work on equity, sustainability, and resilience,” Erik says. “The Greenpower grant has allowed us to do even more.”
These are just a few of the exciting things happening for our Eugene Team this season. Stay tuned for when we dig in on these topics and more, and visit their event calendar here to join in on the fun!
If you’ve ever gone on a tree walk with Eugene Director Erik Burke, you’ve heard about some of the nuanced differences among trees that you can study to identify them. One iconic characteristic is always a good starting point: the leaf. Summer is a great time to investigate the myriad shapes that leaves take.
But what exactly comprises a single leaf? A tricky aspect of plant morphology is understanding simple leaves versus compound leaves. A simple leaf is a singular leaf connected by its stem, or petiole, to the branch (like the Oregon white Oak pictured above).
Sometimes what you might think is an entire leaf is actually a leaflet on a compound leaf. Leaflets will all be attached to the main petiole, which is connected to the branch. How can you tell the difference? Look for the bud node, which will appear where the stem connects to the branch, but not where a leaflet connects to the stem.
Some compound-leaved trees include golden rain tree, red horsechestnut, yellowwood, Amur maackia (pictured above), and Kentucky coffee tree (pictured below). The Kentucky coffee tree has double compound leaves. That means that their leaflets have leaflets. Their leaflet branches can have 40 leaflets!
Some other common trees that folks may know that have compound leaves include ashes, buckeyes, locusts, walnuts, and the infamous tree of heaven. Becca and Erik in the Eugene office sometimes compete at events for who can find the tree of heaven leaf with the most leaflets. Becca currently has the record with 49.
One of the best times to get up close and personal with a tree’s leaves is when you’re pruning. Our Eugene-Springfield team is hosting community printing events August through October. Details here.
Reflecting on another successful season
The Eugene-Springfield team had their final event on May 6th and with hardly a break has already started their summer watering routine. Still, they’ve taken time to reflect on the successes of the 2022- 2023 planting event season. It was a season characterized by more bicycles, new relationships, and emerging leaders.
“We had the most consistent group of new crew leaders this season,” says Eugene-Springfield Program Manager Taylor Glass. “This new cohort quickly rose to lead alongside our veteran CLs. It’s great to have that consistency at planting events.”
The team also worked to expand the use of bicycle crews at planting events. Partnering with PeaceHealth Rides, we had three events with multiple bicycle crews.
“This is something we want to keep doing more of,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “Not only is it a sustainability goal, volunteers just really love it.”
Another area with promising growth this year has been planting at school campuses. We had four plantings at schools, installing trees along the public right of way. The Eugene team has been developing relationships with the school grounds managers to make sure the newly planted trees are well cared for and to find more opportunities to grow tree canopy at school sites.
With the 2023 Greenpower Grant from Eugene Water & Electric Board, the Eugene team looks forward to further expanding its planting program in areas that need trees most. The $50,000 award will fund the expansion of their Neighborhood Tree program to all areas of Eugene with low tree equity scores
Another highlight of the year was especially fun—attending Portland planting events and hosting Portland staff at Eugene events.
“It’s great to spend time together,” Taylor says, “and to exchange ideas on how to do things. Our events are a little different from Portland events.”
One of the things the Eugene team does differently: they keep their neighborhood planting events relatively small. The volunteers largely prefer the more intimate events. They get to connect with each other and still plant plenty of trees.
Thanks to all of this year’s volunteers in Eugene and Springfield!
How trees can help address winter inversions
Residents of Eugene and Springfield are very familiar with inversions. On a cold, clear winter day, pollutants get trapped in the valley, hanging low like a fog and causing notably poor air quality for people on the ground.
“On a cold, dry day, you can pretty much expect an inversion,” says Friends of Trees Eugene Director Erik Burke. “It’s not uncommon to see air quality alerts in winter.”
In the Eugene metro area, the main culprits are car emissions and wood smoke. Particulates in the air get trapped in the valley by warmer air above. It can lead to uncomfortable and even dangerous levels of air pollution. Because Eugene is at the southern end of the Willamette Valley and further away from winds coming from the Columbia River, it’s more susceptible to inversions than the Portland metro region.
One thing that can help? You guessed it, more trees! Trees improve air quality by providing surface area for airborne particulates to stick to. Those particulates are then washed by rain into the soil, where microorganisms break them down into something less harmful.
By breaking down pollutants, soil functions like a kidney of sorts. Trees help guide and slow water through the soil, making trees huge contributors to both air and water quality in both natural and urban environments. As Erik puts it, “trees are stormwater facilities.”
Like in plenty of other cities, the neighborhoods that are closest to polluters in Eugene are low income neighborhoods. Air quality is one of the many benefits of trees that low-canopy neighborhoods are deprived of. Friends of Trees plantings in the Bethel neighborhood are in part to address air quality concerns there.
“All trees are good at improving air quality,” Erik says. “We’re trying to get trees in the ground where air quality is worst.”
This is one of the reasons Friends of Trees plants along the railyard and the Northwest Expressway, where idling locomotives and automobiles are releasing particulates.
While all trees improve air quality, evergreens are particularly useful because they keep their leaves or needles all year.
“Most of our rain comes in winter,” Erik says, “so evergreens are essential. We have a lot to learn about evergreens and air quality.”
Most of the evergreens in Eugene’s urban forest are conifers rather than broadleaf evergreens. While we often think of conifers when we think of evergreens, other species like California live oaks, holm oak and California bay laurel also keep their leaves year-round. Many evergreens grow to be quite large, so the Eugene team is looking to incorporate smaller evergreens like toyon into their plantings.
Biking Our Way Into the New Year
Why take a car when you can take a bicycle? The Eugene Branch has always taken that mindset and incorporates bicycle crews into every neighborhood planting event.
“We have some really dedicated bike volunteers,” says Eugene-Springfield Program Manager Taylor Glass. “That’s how we can always have a bike planting crew.”
Bike crews are able to transport trees and tools from the staging site to planting locations by using bicycle trailers. In addition to our own trailers, Hummingbird Wholesale often joins us for a planting with their large electric-assisted bike trailers so that we can transport even bigger loads.
Using bikes instead of cars is a reflection of our desire to take care of our environment, and it makes perfect sense to reduce emissions at a bike planting. Beyond that, it’s just plain fun.
“I just love it,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “It’s so fun to see the look of amazement on people’s faces when a whole crew rides past hauling big trees. And when treecipients see us pull up, they’re so surprised to see we biked their tree over.”
To give even more community members a chance to participate as a volunteer on two wheels, The Eugene Branch partners with a local bikeshare, PeaceHealth Rides, to have their bikes available at events and free to volunteers. In the past, we’ve had about one event per year with PeaceHealth Rides, but this year we’ll have three! The first will be on January 7th.
With success, fun, and enthusiasm from volunteers, Friends of Trees hopes to have more and more bike crews at plantings in every community we work in.