An education program for Native American students
One day this spring, Harrison found himself waist deep in water in the wetlands on the campus of the Chemawa Indian School, a Native American boarding school in Salem. Harrison, a Green Space Specialist with Friends of Trees, was there with six Chemawa students who enrolled in a class on outdoor education and habitat enhancement.
“Getting outside, away from the classroom, I got to see the students have a moment of immersion and creative discovery,” Harrison says. “They weren’t just looking for critters, they were also thinking about what that means for the environment.”
Friends of Trees has been partnering with the Chemawa Indian School for over seven years on a program designed to provide opportunities for students to build knowledge and skills that could lead to careers in the environmental field.
This year, the program had six students between 16 and 18 years old. The program includes a combination of classroom and field study. In the past, students trained as Friends of Trees Crew Leaders and participated in events, but the pandemic has made that difficult in recent years.
“The pandemic has limited field trips, so it’s been more of a stationary program on campus,” says Meng, another Green Space Specialist who works with the Chemawa students. “We’ve had to adapt and be creative, but we still have the aim to spark interest in green work.”
Luckily, there is a wetland right on campus, where students were able to test the health of a stream, plant trees and native plants to improve that health, and learn to identify plants and wildlife. They also learned how to safely use tools to improve habitat, remove invasive species, and maintain trails.
Friends of Trees provides this programming alongside Elderberry Wisdom Farm, an organization that provides opportunities for Indigenous youth to strengthen their traditional ties with the land and to build career pathways. The Chemawa program incorporates storytelling and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), which often takes a longer view and more holistic approach to habitat restoration.
“I’ve really appreciated having the opportunity to learn about TEK from Elderberry Wisdom.” Harrison says. “We want to use our resources to empower Native organizations like them.”
The goal is to merge TEK with other career building skills, so that the students can see a possible path in the green workforce after they leave Chemawa, and have a sustained interest in issues like tree canopy, water resources, and climate change. Meng and Harrison got to see some of that spark, especially when they took the students out of the classroom and into the field.
“When I got to plant with the students, I could see that they were genuinely excited to plant,” Meng says. “They got to plan where the plants could go, and have ownership over the process.”
The program has an opportunity to grow, especially with a deepened relationship with Elderberry Wisdom Farm. In the future, we hope to once again provide crew leader training to the students and have them lead volunteers at planting events. On campus, there’s room to enhance the wetland by planting a more diverse palette of native plants and adding trails so that students can go there and feel a connection to nature, maybe without having to get waist deep in water.
Our municipal relationships are key to our regional growth
This Earth Month, we are celebrating how we are expanding our impact throughout Western Oregon and Southwest Washington. We couldn’t do this without the municipal partners that are investing in their communities by supporting community tree planting as a way to increase their cities’ canopies.
Yesterday, Wilsonville residents celebrated Earth Day with a city-wide tree planting event. This year we celebrated 20 years of partnership with the City of Wilsonville, where we have held annual plantings in parks and natural areas. It all started in 2002 when we partnered to create native plant areas in Memorial Park. In recent years, we have expanded this successful partnership to include neighborhood tree plantings, with an annual goal of 200 neighborhood trees per year.
Vancouver is another city where the community continually shows up to make an impact. We had four incredible plantings this year to meet our goal of adding more than 400 trees to Vancouver’s urban canopy Friends of Trees has been planting trees and growing community in Southwest Washington since 2003, and we’ve engaged local volunteers to plant nearly 8,000 trees here.
“Planting trees is one of my favorite things to do when it comes to volunteering,” said Vancouver Councilmember Sara J. Fox at a Friends of Trees planting event this year. “Even if it’s not your tree, it’s all of our trees.”
Our Eugene Branch continues to grow their work in both Eugene and Springfield, expanding beyond street trees to include yard trees as well, in addition to continuing with natural area restoration events at sites like the Northwest Expressway. The City of Eugene has been a valuable partner, and we continue to work closely with them to grow a vision together.
“Springfield is an important geography for our equity work,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “We are looking to more than double our annual tree goal there.”
This is just a taste of the growth we’ve had throughout the region. We continue to make strides alongside our municipal partners in Gresham, Oregon City, Milwaukie, Salem, Tualatin, Tigard and Beaverton. We’re excited to be expanding our planting events in Hillsboro, too, where after years of restoration work, we’ll be adding street trees events to our calendar.
Partnering with TriMet to plant trees at MAX stops
We are always looking for creative places where trees can go. A MAX stop is a fantastic candidate, so when the public transportation agency TriMet came to us about a project, it made a lot of sense. Adding shade trees to MAX train stops and Park & Rides is an opportunity to improve the rider experience and address climate change at the same time.
This winter, working with TriMet with funding from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, we planted over 100 trees at 6 different Max Stops and Park & Rides throughout Portland and Gresham.
“Trimet’s main motivation was to replace shade-producing tree canopies in our Park & Rides, as well as our swales,” says Justin Hale, Landscape Manager at TriMet. TriMet has been installing bioswales to capture and filter stormwater runoff at its MAX stops. These vegetative spaces are perfect locations for trees.
While we weren’t able to have traditional planting events at the MAX stop sites, some of the project work was completed by our crews from Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC). Much of the work was contracted to JN Landscaping, a minority-owned business in Portland.
“Transportation and tree planting are both issues that are important to our community,” Friends of Trees Deputy Director Whitney Dorer says. “This partnership was an innovative way for us to engage with transportation.”
Working with organizations like TriMet, we can find new ways to expand our tree canopy and improve heavily trafficked spaces like train and bus stops. “We are excited about replacing trees in an effort to restore our sites,” Justin says, “especially those with diminishing tree canopies.”
A Unique Partnership in the Tualatin River Watershed
You can’t have clean water without trees. One of our oldest partnerships is with Clean Water Services, a water resource management utility that recognizes the importance of trees to watershed health. For over two decades, Clean Water Services has worked with Friends of Trees on planting events throughout Washington County, from Beaverton and Tigard to Forest Grove and Banks.
“It’s a unique partnership,” says Michelle Yasutake, the Green Space Program Manager at Friends of Trees. “To be working with a single entity that connects us to so many municipalities.”
“Friends of Trees is hugely important in our efforts to engage with the community,” says Randy Lawrence, Project Manager at Clean Water Services’ Natural Systems Enhancement & Stewardship Department. “To fulfill our investment in green infrastructure, we need community investment. We need to get their point of view.”
Clean Water Services plants trees as part of the Tree For All campaign, which has planted more than ten million native plants in the Tualatin River Watershed since 2005.
“Rather than just contracting the work out, Clean Water Services works with us to bring community engagement,” says Michelle. “And the community wants to be able to contribute and participate.”
In addition to working in public spaces, Clean Water Services has also connected Friend of Trees to private landowners through homeowners associations. Working with HOAs is important to connecting corridors of canopy where there would otherwise be gaps.
Clean Water Services has also facilitated our collaboration with groups like the Cascade Education Corps, which connects underserved youth with environmental stewardship work, and the Salmonberry Trail project, where we rescued native plants from a future recreational trail site.
“We want to make sure that who we engage with is reflective of the entire community,” Randy says. Both Friends of Trees and Clean Water Services want to continue to expand on efforts toward equity, diversity, and inclusion in the partnership moving forward.
Combined, our efforts are greater than the sum of their parts. “Working together, the scope of our projects is bigger and better,” Randy says. “And community buy-in is bigger and better.”
FOT started planting at Memorial Park in 2002
The morning sun shined on the 51 volunteers at Memorial Park during our February planting in Wilsonville. It was a special day at a familiar spot, because this planting marked the 20th anniversary of the partnership between Friends of Trees and the City of Wilsonville.
In 2002, the City of Wilsonville and Friends of Trees partnered to create native plant communities in Memorial Park. Since then, volunteers have installed thousands of native plants, shrubs and trees, reestablishing forest areas and protecting riparian zones in Wilsonville’s oldest and largest park.
“What a great day to plant,” says Michelle Yasutake, the Green Space Program Manager at Friends of Trees. “We added over 1,000 plants! It’s an awesome way to celebrate this partnership where it all started.” The newly planted native shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns will contribute to the legacy that began two decades ago.
FOT’s work in Wilsonville has expanded into the city’s neighborhoods, too. In the fall of 2021, Friends of Trees volunteers planted 112 trees during two city-wide tree planting events. On April 23, Wilsonville residents can celebrate Earth Day by volunteering at a Friends of Trees neighborhood planting, or getting their own yard or street tree.