Together we can protect trees and our communities: Friends of Trees Op-Ed

On January 21st, The Oregonian published an op-ed written by Yashar Vasef, our executive director, and Litzy Venturi, our community tree care coordinator: “We must invest in tree care to protect trees and our communities.” Read the full piece below.

Opinion: We must invest in tree care to protect trees and our communities

Climate change and its severe impacts force us to live with dual realities: We need trees more than ever and we need to recognize that extreme weather can turn them into hazards. After hundreds of trees and large limbs fell around the Portland metro area during this historic winter storm, we know that people may be concerned about the trees in their neighborhoods. The impact of a downed tree is serious and often devastating.

The response is clear, but not necessarily easy. Not only do we need to continue to plant trees to grow our urban canopy, but we also need to invest more time, knowledge and resources into assessing, protecting and maintaining the trees we have. As part of that, we must also deal with trees that need to be removed and replaced due to poor health or the potential threat they pose to homes or businesses.

Trees are a crucial ingredient for a healthy, resilient and livable community. How do we set our trees up for success in the face of potential extreme weather? It starts with planting the right tree in the right place. Sometimes people favor certain species because of sentiment or aesthetic appeal, but if they aren’t planted in a place with the right conditions, they’re more prone to failure. Selecting a tree for the available space, light and soil type is the first step in giving a tree a long healthy life.

The next step is to invest in caring for young trees after they’re planted. Proper watering techniques encourage roots to spread into a wide, stable network. Mulching around a tree’s root zone provides the soil with needed nutrients and structure. The right pruning plan will allow a tree to establish a strong trunk and a stable shape and mitigate the risk of limb failure. Tree care is a lot like preventative medicine. Keeping a tree healthy will reduce the risk of catastrophic failure.

You might be looking at a large tree in your own yard and wondering what to do next. While concern after this winter storm is natural, it’s important to remember that the benefits of trees far outweigh the risks. Trees create oxygen, abate pollution and cool our neighborhoods. It’s important not to over-correct by removing healthy trees. This was an unusually catastrophic weather event, and while hundreds of trees fell, millions didn’t. Still, there are steps you can take as a tree owner, and that we can take as a community, to better care for our trees and reduce the risk of catastrophe in the future.

An arborist partner of ours, Chad Honl, pointed out in a recent Oregonian/OregonLive story that this was “a perfect storm for knocking over trees,” and that even trees he would have characterized as stable toppled over in the storm. That’s a scary prospect, especially as climate change increases chances for extreme weather. But it just means that we need to learn more about what happened – which kinds of trees fell and what factors may have made some more vulnerable to failing than others. We agree with Honl’s call for trees to be assessed and reassessed with storms like this in mind. Understanding and addressing risks in advance of the next storm can save a lot of money, trouble and even lives. If you’re worried about your tree, you should have it inspected by a certified arborist for maintenance needs and potential problems.

A greater investment in trees doesn’t just mean planting more trees. It means taking care of the trees we have. In response to the unexpected revenue from the Portland Clean Energy Fund, Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio has called for additional climate investments, including $100 million for the protection and maintenance of 240,000 right-of-way street trees between the sidewalk and the street. We need to protect our mature trees and protect our communities by making sure those trees are safe.

The more mature a tree gets, the more benefits it provides: more carbon storage, more air and water quality benefits, more shade, more habitat. That’s why we need to invest in the health of our trees, for our safety in the event of a winter storm or heat wave, for our daily mental and physical well-being, and for the health of the planet.

Save Our State’s Urban Trees from Tree Code Rollback

Governor Kotek’s HPAC proposes overriding tree codes in favor of development.

Governor Kotek’s Housing Production Advisory Council (HPAC) is currently planning to bring forward recommendations that include the overriding of tree codes for plots smaller than 6,000 square feet, which will explicitly allow clear cutting of trees under 48″ diameter, which includes the vast majority of urban trees. This recommendation stands in stark contrast to work taking place throughout the state and nation to increase tree cover as a key tool for growing climate-resilient cities. Read more here.

HPAC has a hearing on Friday, September 29th where this facet of their proposal will be discussed.

We recognize the urgent need for affordable housing, but housing and trees should not be mutually exclusive. Friends of Trees, the Shade Equity Coalition (we’re a member!), and many other environmental organizations around the state believe the proposal is unnecessarily pitting the housing and climate emergencies against one another. Unfortunately, this advisory body in question does not have a representative from the environmental justice sector to speak to shade equity, climate change, and the myriad of benefits urban trees provide to Oregonians. This is our chance to voice our concerns.


Since it is difficult to testify at the hearing itself, please make sure to submit written testimony to: [email protected] and copy [email protected].

Suggested Talking Points from Trees for Life Oregon

At a time of climate crisis, throwing climate- and tree-related regulations out the window is a misguided, short-sighted way to speed up housing construction—and a sure way to guarantee that the state and its cities and towns will be unable to meet their own planned climate and canopy goals.

Many factors affect developers’ ability to build more affordable housing faster. Tree protections are hardly key among them. Portland’s tree code gives developers the option of paying fees to remove trees in lieu of preserving them. Builders have been paying these fees as they do other business expenses, deeming them worth it in order to build more revenue-generating units or a larger single home whose price will more than cover any tree-removal fees they might have paid. Moreover, simply doing away with tree protections will not guarantee that builders will create more affordable housing.

We oppose HPAC’s proposal to essentially override municipal tree codes like Portland’s that took many people many years and much effort to put into place. Tree codes were created to ensure Oregon remains a livable place we can all be proud to live in. The Portland tree code, for one, was in the end strongly influenced by developers and is already weak as is.

We oppose HPAC’s recommendations to erode state and local wetland and environmental zone protections. Such changes will certainly impact trees.

Governor Kotek’s HPAC is proposing to do away with environment regulations that developers have wanted to eliminate for years. When selecting HPAC’s members Governor Kotek did not include broader voices that would reflect the reality that we are facing both a housing and a climate crisis, and that both need to be addressed in an integrated way.

We hope you’ll take this opportunity to let your voice be heard.

Coalition Led by Friends of Trees Awarded $12M Community Forestry Grant


For more information:
Friends of Trees: Yashar Vasef, Executive Director; [email protected]

Please contract coalition members for more information about their organization’s specific project role and activities (details below)

Portland, Ore. (9-14-23) — An 11-member coalition led by Friends of Trees was awarded a $12 million Urban and Community Forestry Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Inflation Reduction Act grants. The grant will fund the engagement of low canopy neighborhoods included in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative, which will bring resources to communities most impacted by climate change, pollution, and environmental hazards.

The partner coalition includes APANO, Black Parent Initiative, City of Gresham, City of Portland, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Connecting Canopies, Depave, POIC, Verde, and Wisdom of the Elders. The $12 million award will direct funds to these partners and Friends of Trees across five years. This is a partial award, as the original request was for $17.5 million, and the details of the award have not yet been provided.

The coalition’s proposal includes funding for community forestry work including tree planting, natural area restoration, post-planting care, community education, opportunities for direct community input and participation, and workforce training.

“This award is a validation of community tree planting as a model,” says Friends of Trees Executive Director Yashar Vasef. “Especially in the face of intensifying climate change, authentic community partnerships have a huge part to play in growing and maintaining our urban forests.”

The project includes:

  • community tree planting (training and engaging volunteers) to plant up to 2,300 street and yard trees and 21,000 native shrubs in neighborhoods and natural areas, specifically in identified equity areas: East Multnomah County, West Eugene, and Springfield
  • robust post-planting care, including watering, mulching, and natural area maintenance
  • community education
  • opportunities for direct community input and participation
  • workforce training

In addition to community tree planting and tree care, thousands of additional trees and native shrubs will be planted and cared for by coalition partners through other methods.

“This project represents a tremendous investment in growing our community’s canopy,” Vasef says. “That means engaging the community in efforts to both plant and care for trees.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA’s Forest Service is awarding more than $1 billion in competitive grants to plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, and improve access to nature. Friends of Trees’ partner application is one of 385 proposals that were accepted across the nation.

In addition to affirming the effectiveness of the community tree planting model, this award demonstrates that policymakers are listening to the science. It’s widely accepted that trees play a vital role in combating climate change and providing public health benefits. A recent study using 14 years of Friends of Trees planting data associates neighborhood tree planting with fewer deaths.

“This isn’t just the coalition’s award, this is our communities’ award,” says Vasef. “This coalition represents a broad, diverse cross section of our communities, and these communities will be directly involved with, and will directly benefit from, this project.”

Friends of Trees (
Friends of Trees inspires people to improve the natural world around them through a simple solution: Planting Trees. Together.

Friends of Trees was founded in 1989 by a local community member who loved trees and started planting them in neighborhoods. Today, Friends of Trees is a nationally recognized, regional leader in improving the urban tree canopy and restoring sensitive natural areas—through programs delivered by thousands of volunteers. Friends of Trees has planted 945,000+ trees and native plants in neighborhoods and natural areas in six counties across two states in the 35 years since its founding. Learn more about The Friends of Trees Way.

Please contract coalition members for more information about their organization’s specific project role and activities:

Let’s Talk About Tree Care


How does Friends of Trees set trees up for a long, impactful life?

Trees are one of the most cost-effective answers we have to the growing challenges of climate change. It’s a simple fact that we need more trees and native plants. But it’s not as simple as just planting them. To make sure that trees and plants survive and thrive, we need to invest in after-planting care. Watering, mulching, and regular inspection during a tree’s first three years, plus appropriate pruning in a tree’s first seven years, do wonders for setting that tree up to provide its full benefit for decades and beyond.

“In short, trees are cheap and human lives are valuable.”

-USFS Researcher Dr. Geoffrey Donovan, whose research found an association between trees planted by Friends of Trees and lower mortality (Learn more)

We’ve planted close to a million trees and native plants in the 34 year history of Friends of Trees. We know that they don’t all make it. But when we plant The Friends of Trees Way, we are working hard to ensure that trees and native plants flourish, so that they can shade our homes and streets, clean our air and water, and make our neighborhoods more liveable.

Trees ready to be planted


Planting trees in an urban environment presents unique challenges to trees that would otherwise do well in a forest. Climate change complicates the matter even further. The success of a tree has so much to do with its specific environment—soil, space, sunlight, and moisture availability. Making thoughtful choices for each and every tree and green space planting site—and incorporating climate-adaptive species whenever possible—is a huge part of setting trees and plants up for success.

“The better we can guide folks to right tree, right place, the lower maintenance and longer lived our trees will be,” says Senior Neighborhood Trees Specialist Andrew Land. “Plant a shade-lover in full sun and you’ll either need to water it regularly to keep it looking fresh or you’ll need to replace it before long.”

Tree inspector


The work doesn’t stop after a tree goes into the ground. We build three years of post-planting establishment care into our tree care plans. Making sure a tree is watered and mulched during those first few years is crucial. We train volunteers to serve as summer inspectors who visit trees twice during their first summer and make recommendations to the tree recipient as needed.

We also provide tree recipients with educational materials after the planting, send mailings and reminder emails. See our tree care guide here.

Hotter and drier summers in the Willamette Valley will make tree survival increasingly challenging regardless of who planted them. This is why Friends of Trees is encouraging funders to evolve our standardized three-year tree care model to five years of watering, summer monitoring, and periodic tree pruning.

Crew Leader Huddle


One of the reasons that the Friends of Trees tree planting model centers on community tree education and volunteerism is because it produces an extra layer of stewardship and protection for those trees planted by community members. By working with tree recipients, volunteer planters and volunteer summer inspectors, we help tree knowledge spread throughout the neighborhoods where we work, and more and more people become invested in the health of the trees and can help identify trees in need of assistance and care for them before it’s too late.

People want to plant trees, and that’s awesome! But we need support for post-planting care, too. At Friends of Trees, we don’t just plant a tree and walk away. It’s imperative to make sure that trees get the chance to flourish, especially in places like East Portland, a low-canopy area of the city that accounts for many of the city’s heat-related deaths.

Your support will help us expand our tree care program.

When a volunteer plants a tree, it often becomes sentimental and the volunteer becomes invested in seeing the tree healthily mature over the years. This is the sort of relationship with trees that we encourage with our tree recipients and volunteers. Trees are more than a utility to be managed. They provide benefits both tangible and intangible, and they enrich our lives and communities, more and more as they grow and mature.

Learn more about tree care here.


In honor of Earth Day and Arbor Day, and in celebration of all we do together to make our world greener and healthier for all, Friends of Trees is celebrating for the entire month of April–and here’s how you can join in!

We have $17,000 in Earth Month Challenges from Portland General Electric, Laughing Planet Cafe, Cafe Yumm, Level Beer, Deschutes Brewing. Donate here, your donation will make 2x the difference!


Wednesday, April 26, 6-8p.m. ~ Level Beer, northeast Portland

Friends of Trees benefit night at Level Beer on April 26. On the 26th all Level locations are donating 100% of proceeds from their Earth Day beer to trees + community (that’s us ;). We’ll be on site at Level’s northeast Portland location from 6 to about 8 (we’ll be based in the Annex), we’ll host a tree walk among the trees and shrubs we planted there this season + we’ll have some trees & plants to give away.

  • VOLUNTEER! Check out our event calendar for volunteer opportunities.
  • Earth Month fundraisers for Friends of Trees!
    • Until October 2023 Laughing Planet Cafe is donating $1 from every kids smoothie!
    • On Earth Day, April 22, Cafe Yumm is donating 10% of all proceeds from ALL Oregon locations – WOW!
    • Every Tuesday in April, Deschutes Brewery Portland is donating $1 per pint sold to Friends of Trees throughout the day. Thanks to Deschutes for being our Earth Day Oregon partners this year!
    • And in Eugene, for the entire month of April Alesong Brewing will be donating 25% of all revenue from bottle and draft sales of Rolling Mist, a farmhouse ale made with Sitka spruce tips foraged from the coast – wow, what an ale!


Earth Day, Saturday, April 22:

  • Friends of Trees annual shade tree sale. Large stock trees at discounted prices! Learn more here.
  • Native Tree & Plant Giveaway at Happy Valley Park. Are you a Clackamas County resident? Would you like a free native plant or two? Come visit us at Happy Valley Park (13770 SE Ridgecrest Rd, Happy Valley, OR 97086 ) between 9:30am & 12:30 pm – four plants per household and first come, first served! Thanks to our sponsors The Arbor Day Foundation and State Farm Insurance for the plants!

  • Stay tuned to our social media channels for some EXTRA special content. (Instagram / Facebook).
  • Visit our YouTube channel for some tree walks & talks with Friends of Trees staff + friends.

Check back, this page will be updated throughout April!




This year during Earth Month, we’re celebrating Community Climate Action. What’s Community Climate Action? It’s planting trees, together, and so much more.

Tackling climate change goes hand-in-hand with community action. At Friends of Trees, we’ve heard from countless volunteers about how planting trees makes them feel more connected to trees, more observant of trees’ health, and more eager to care for them. We’ve witnessed time and time again how a volunteer begins with tree planting and goes on to engage further with environmental issues, including combating climate change. It’s a ripple effect that can begin with a single tree.