Caring for Climate Trees in Eugene

Some climate trees can need a little extra TLC

We pay extra attention to all of our trees during their first few years of establishment. Watering, mulching, pruning, inspection, restaking, vandalism repair —this little bit of extra work has a huge impact on the tree’s success in the long run. Over the last decade, the Eugene Branch has been integrating more climate resilient trees into its planting regimen. They’ve found that these trees need a bit more attention, but because these trees will stand up to the changing climate, it’s definitely worth it.

Because these trees are not widely used in the nursery trade, they have not been selected for form in the same way. One guideline of climate change is that by 2050, each area’s climate will become like that of the area 500-700 miles south of them, so many of the trees we are trying are native to the area south of Eugene. Because of how they’ve been selected, more common trees in the nursery trade are more uniform—they tend to have trunks that go straight up and branches that are well-spaced.

Many common trees are cultivars, often patented clones. Of course, these trees still require some pruning, but they have had years of effort to select for form, so they are as predictable as a fast food burger. This process diminishes intraspecific diversity, or the diversity within a species, something that is just as valuable as interspecific diversity, the diversity between multiple species.

Some of the climate resilient trees the Eugene team are working on—like valley oak, blue oak, and California live oaks—often exhibit rapid, explosive growth, sometimes taking on a “rangy” or “shrubby” appearance. During their first three years of growing, they need more pruning and staking attention to achieve a good form.

“These climate trees need about twice as much pruning as a typical tree during their establishment years,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “But they are very drought tolerant and tough, and that gives them a leg up in the face of the changing climate.”

The Eugene Branch is about to start its yearly pruning. One reason that Eugene prunes in late summer, rather than in the dormant season, is that it slows the trees down.

“Here, fast growth is a bigger issue than slow growth,” Erik says. Fast growing trees are tougher to manage for strength and stability, and will often have weaker wood more prone to failure, particularly in snow or ice storms, which is something you don’t want in the urban environment.

It’s because our trees are in the urban environment that it’s so important to prune them to have a central leader and stong structure. A tree in the forest or a field will prune itself. But in the urban environment, we want to prune trees before a truck does, which could seriously damage the tree, or before a storm does, which would pose a threat to people and property.

The benefits of any one tree grow exponentially with every year it’s alive. We want our trees to have long, healthy lives so they can provide shade, clean air, and habitat.

“Climate resilient trees are only becoming more and more important, so we think they are worth that bit of extra effort,” Erik says.

Heat Week 2022

Addressing heat concerns in our community

In June 2021, the Pacific Northwest was embroiled in a heat dome effect, reaching high temperature records from Oregon to British Columbia. We had a cool and wet spring, but another June heat wave this week served as a reminder that we need to be prepared for more frequent and intense weather events.

This year, Heat Week was created to help the community learn how to prepare their households for warmer summers and take action together to cool our neighborhoods. Friends of Trees is proud to be a part of this work, because trees provide a powerful cooling effect to communities.

Heat Week is a series of events organized to commemorate the historic Heat Dome of June 2021, remember those who died due to disparities across our community, and bring together practitioners, professionals and community leaders to share information and resources across a range of heat and climate related topics. Heat Week kicked off on Sunday with an event at Leach Botanical Garden, where leaders and experts commemorated those who died during the extreme weather last year and made calls to address climate change.

“Communities at this higher latitude are arguably the most underprepared for these kinds of events,” Portland State University Professor Vivek Shandas said. “We saw that really bear down on us last year.”

Heat Week includes five days of events for professionals and community members across the Metro region. These include a mix of in-person and virtual events, most of which are open to the public. By sharing resources, data, and quality information with our growing network of heat adaptation professionals, Heat Week is creating needed discussion around climate realities—discussions meant to serve the larger public.

Heat Week was initiated by CAPA Strategies, a climate adaptation and planning analytics company that is motivated by community collaboration and resilience. Partners include Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Families for Climate, Multnomah County Health Department, Washington County Health Department, Clackamas County Disaster Management and Public Health, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Verde, Familias en Acción, 350 PDX, Community Energy Project, and Friends of Trees.

Take a look at Heat Week events here!

Together we can grow the canopy: Friends of Trees Op-Ed

By Yashar Vasef

On Sunday, April 3, The Oregonian published an Op-Ed that I wrote: “Amid shrinking canopy, community tree planting needed more than ever.” In it, I address Portland’s reported tree canopy loss and the end of our contract with the City of Portland to plant street and yard trees in the city. We appreciate the opportunity to bring attention to the importance of community tree planting and we are so grateful for all the support we’ve already received.

We wanted to share its contents with you, and answer some of the questions you may have after reading it.

Opinion: Amid shrinking canopy, community tree planting needed more than ever

The recent report about the loss of tree canopy in Portland is yet another piece of grim news related to how the climate crisis is threatening the health of our environment and our community (“Portland tree canopy has stagnated or shrunk, harming city’s climate change aspirations,” March 22). The report indicates that Portland’s urban tree canopy has shrunk or plateaued for the first time in 50 years ­– a warning that the city will not be able to meet its goal of having tree canopy encompass 33% of the city’s area by 2035.

Unfortunately, the release of the report coincides with the end of Friends of Trees’ 14-year contract with the city to plant street and yard trees through community planting events. This nationally-replicated partnership between Friends of Trees and the city has added nearly 40,000 street and yard trees throughout Portland since 2008, while engaging thousands of community members as volunteers to plant and care for these trees. About 70% of those trees were planted in underserved, low-canopy neighborhoods to address inequities in the distribution of Portland’s trees.

We truthfully do not know why this successful partnership is ending. There has been an abundance of rumors and speculation, but all we know is that our contract ends this June and we do not know of any city plan to invest in programs that center authentic community engagement in planting street and yard trees in Portland. Especially as we see accelerating and intensifying climate impacts right here at home, fighting climate change needs all hands on deck: government, nonprofits and communities collaborating with a necessary sense of urgency.

It’s not just about ending a contract with Friends of Trees—we understand that contracts end and terms change. But given that we are experiencing a true climate crisis, we don’t believe this is the time to cut a successful tree planting program that also builds community through bringing volunteers together to help grow our urban canopy. Tree planting is one of the best tools at our disposal, and we encourage our city leaders to increase and broaden investments in community tree planting ­– with us or with others – and to pursue other proven strategies that fight climate change, promote climate action and foster climate justice.

Friends of Trees is fortunate to have growing support throughout the region and from other municipalities. We want to keep our momentum here in Portland, too, where we can harness our established partnerships, volunteer resources and community buy-in to contribute to the efforts to plant more trees in Portland. We believe that the city should continue to fund community tree planting; of course, we would love to be included in that funding, and we think other organizations should be included, too. This is the time to grow public investment in trees, not cut back.

We need trees more than ever, for their ability to improve air quality, store stormwater, provide shade, improve the mental and physical health of our community members and so much more. That’s why we engage trained volunteers to check on and help care for each tree after it gets planted. Post-planting care and assessment, combined with ongoing communication with tree recipients, contributes to a 95%-plus survival rate.

Community planting nurtures more than trees. Our events engage volunteers of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status and political views to plant and care for trees together. We partner with other organizations that center climate justice and engage people from historically underserved communities to directly play a part in improving the health and livability of their neighborhoods. It includes environmental education and internships that expand opportunities to enter the green workforce. Authentically engaging communities is crucial toward achieving climate justice.

There is a ripple effect from participating in tree planting that goes beyond the trees and the many benefits they provide. We have seen firsthand how planting and caring for trees increases community members’ engagement with the environment and participation in civic life, especially when it comes to climate action. An investment in community tree planting is an investment in stewarding future climate action.

We recognize that the end of this partnership raises questions about the future of our work, particularly in Portland. While the partnership with the City has been a significant part of our organization’s history, there’s so much else that Friends of Trees provides to the community, and we will continue to keep engaging volunteers to plant and care for as many trees and native plants as we can in Western Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Q: What is Friends of Trees doing in response to this development?

We are doing everything we can to make sure that there is still community tree planting in Portland. We are talking to partner organizations, community members, and government officials about how we can make tree planting easier, more accessible, and more equitable.

We will also continue growing our work with other municipalities throughout the region, as we find great value in these partnerships and what they can accomplish. And no matter where we plant, we will plant the Friends of Trees Way.

Q: What’s wrong with the City planting trees themselves?

Absolutely nothing! We want the City to plant trees. We do not believe that this issue is us versus them. There is an important role for government to play in planting and caring for trees.

We believe that it’s also important to include community organizations in those efforts. We want to help, and we want our partner organizations to be able to help. The more trees that get planted, the better. Be it with the City, Friends of Trees, or other community organizations, all avenues to tree planting should be open.

In addition to getting trees in the ground, Friends of Trees adds unique value to the process through community engagement. We have been involving community members in tree planting for over 30 years. Our staff has knowledge that goes beyond tree planting and tree care to volunteer engagement and education. Authentic engagement with the community always leads to more success for the tree.

More FAQ with additional information is here, we will update as needed. Thanks so much for supporting trees + community!

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.”

Leaflet: Why We Love Oaks


We love oaks and you should too!

At Friends of Trees, we are particularly fond of oak trees, so much so that our mascot is Garry Oak. For our tree experts, it’s a go-to tree for reasons that go beyond its iconic nature.

“We got a lot of oaks this season,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Drew Land. “As a species, they are an effective resource against climate change. And I want people to know that!”

A recent study published in Tree Physiology found that when mature oak trees were bathed in levels of CO2 equivalent to what is expected in 2050, the trees increased their rate of photosynthesis up to a third in response.

Some folks are reluctant to plant oak trees because they drop a lot of leaves. But we have learned that it’s healthier for your yard to leave the leaves, so that shouldn’t discourage you. Oak leaves are high in tannic acid and don’t decompose as immediately as other species, so they make for particularly good mulch.

Oak trees are particularly good providers to their ecological community, from contributing to the food web to managing the watershed to storing carbon. In those regards, it’s one of the most productive things you can put in your own yard.

“You plant an oak in your yard, you’re planting a zoo,” says Douglas W. Tallamy, author of The Nature of Oaks. “It’s your chance to create life that didn’t exist in that space.”

Oaks are the backbone of our local food chains and are crucial to feeding native insects, which feed the native and migratory birds and small mammals. The Willamette Valley was an Oregon White Oak savannah for 10,000 years. It doesn’t get any more native than that!

“Thankfully, we do plant loads of Oregon white oaks, which is the most important oak species locally,” Drew says. “But the more we plant, the better.”