Friends of Trees | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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 (FriendsofTrees.org)
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:
- APANO: Duncan Hwang, [email protected]
- The Black Parent Initiative: Leigh Bohannon, [email protected]
- Columbia Slough Watershed Council: Max Samuelson or Heather King, [email protected]; [email protected]
- Connecting Canopies: Theresa Huang or Derron Coles, [email protected]; [email protected]
- Depave: Katya Reyna, [email protected]
- City of Gresham: Tina Osterink or Sarah Cagann, [email protected]; [email protected]
- City of Portland: Mark Ross, [email protected]
- Rosemary Anderson High School/POIC: Leigh Rappaport, [email protected]
- Verde: Jasmine Co or Amandeep Sohi, [email protected], [email protected]
- Wisdom of the Elders: Adrienne Moat, [email protected]
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.
RIGHT TREE, RIGHT PLACE
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.”
POST-PLANTING INSPECTION AND CARE
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.
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.
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.
Students at Chemawa Indian School connect with the Indigenous relationship to the land
Friends of Trees has been partnering with the Chemawa Indian School, a Native American boarding school in Salem, for over eight 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, Chase Huntley joined the team as an Education Specialist working with the Chemawa Program. He developed a syllabus around general conservation ecology and restoration, and how it connects to bigger ideas.
“It’s really important to make things culturally relevant,” Chase says. “Communities have always had a relationship to the land to the water. So I wanted to focus on the place we’re at and how it’s important to Indigenous people.”
The course is a combination of classroom, field study, and hands-on activity. The seven high school students in the class are all from different groups around the country, so much of the local land and its history was new to them. Chase hosted guest speakers to talk about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) specific to the Kalapuya and other nearby tribes.
“Because these students are at a boarding school, I wanted to make sure we got outside as much as possible,” Chase says. “There’s so many benefits to being outside, including getting to know the land.”
One of Chase’s goals is for the students to shift away from the Western perspective that considers people and nature as separate. From the point of view of Indigenous people, people are intricately involved with nature. “Every plant has a purpose, not just ecologically but also culturally,” he says.
Much of the classroom study considered how Indigenous people have a role in shaping the land. Weekly themes included wildlife, water, restoration, environmental justice, plants, and careers, all with the Indigenous perspective.
Students were able to build a sweat lodge, and make arrows out of willow branches. Some of the hands-on work included blackberry removal and managing other invasive species. They also worked on mulching, planting native plants, and general maintenance.
“I wanted the activities to be student-led and it turns out they really enjoyed blackberry removal, Chase says. “But not just for something to do—we made sure that we understood the why behind what we’re doing.”
Chase is excited about the momentum the program has. His goal for this year was to build a strong foundation and develop partnerships, something he’ll continue doing next school year.
“I want to get more input from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde,” he says. “There are so many resources on the land that we can study. And I want to get off the campus more too, so that we can see even more of the area.”
With more guest speakers and more field trips, students can continue to connect the dots to the big picture and develop a sense of place connected to the larger watershed and indigenous lands in the area. Students will also train as crew leaders for the first time since before the pandemic, providing them with opportunities to participate in more green space and neighborhood planting events in Salem as both volunteers and crew leaders.
“There’s so much potential with this program,” Chase says. “It all starts with focusing on the place and its importance to Indigenous people.”
Our youth programming creates opportunities for young people to engage with nature
Getting youth excited about trees and green spaces is one of the best parts about our work. Friends of Trees engaged over 250 young people through youth programming this season!
“I had kids coming up to me and saying, ‘this is your job?!’” Green Space Specialist Kaitie Benedek says of her time working with students from CF Tigard Elementary School and Fowler Middle School. On five different planting days, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes planted native plants at Woodard Park and Dirksen Nature Park, which is adjacent to the middle school’s campus.
“We’d have classes of 25 at a time planting for one class period, so it was super fast,” Kaitie says. “So many kids got excited about planting, and about getting to contribute to this park right by their school. A lot of the kids even named their plants.”
Students from Cascade Education Corps (CEC) helped lead the plantings. CEC members are high school students following an alternative path to graduation by working on hands-on environmental projects. They spend three days per week out in the field working on restoration projects sponsored by other Tree for All partners, including Clean Water Services and Friends of Trees. With elementary, middle and high schoolers working together and people walking by in the park offering encouragement, the plantings at Dirksen and Woodard had a wonderful intergenerational feel to them.
That spirit of connection and mentorship was present at Oregon Trail Elementary too, where forestry students from the Sabin-Schellenberg Center helped facilitate a full day of hands-on environmental education.
“Teachers and parent chaperones were very happy to get the kids outside,” says Green Space Specialist Meng Vue. “These kids weren’t afraid to get dirty.”
Students rotated through five different stations, learning to plant and mulch, decorating wood cookies, and learning about the local ecology with skulls, pelts, and pine cones. The goal was to show students all aspects of a healthy watershed and how planting native plants is an important component of that.
“When you get students involved in learning about the environment, appreciating the place and engaging with it, they’ll take those lessons home and share them,” Meng says.
Harrison Layer, another Green Space Specialist, echoes the importance of opening those doors through education. “When I was young, I saw nature as a big green blob. What are the ways to start to get curious?”
Harrison works closely with students from Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), a nonprofit that connects high school youth with career training, including partnering with Friends of Trees. POIC students train as crew leaders and lead Friends of Trees plantings throughout the season.
“We had several students from last year come back this year,” Harrison says, “and it was great to see them grow into a leadership role. The mix of veteran and new students worked really well.”
Working with the POIC crew for an entire season means that you can see amazing growth in skills and confidence. “Everyone grew in their public speaking ability,” Harrison says. “By the end of the season, we had some students who demonstrated the confidence to represent their program through elevator pitches to large groups of volunteers at the beginning of our events.”
In addition to helping at plantings, POIC students got to go on several field trips, including mountain biking at Gateway Green, studying ecosystems at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park, and getting to know turtles and amphibians at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
“One of the students at Oaks Bottom referred to this program as ‘unlocking’ new places for them to know and appreciate, much like a video game,” Harrison says. “I loved that!”
“Trees Give Me Confidence”
Vianey Mohr on why she loves volunteering with Friends of Trees
Vianey was supposed to be an assistant crew leader at her very first planting event. As fate would have it, she would have to step into the crew leader role right away.
“I thought, OMG, how am I going to do this,” Vianey says. “But all the volunteers were so nice and supportive.”
Originally from Mexico, Vianey has lived in Salem for 12 years. She speaks English as a second language, and was worried about communicating with her crew. Between her crew leader training and the support of her crewmates, everything went great.
“Trees give me confidence. I proved to myself that I can do it,” Vianey says. “I don’t have to be scared to communicate.”
Vianey’s love of trees brought her to Friends of Trees. She has the equivalent of a bachelor’s in forestry from her education in Mexico, and she is volunteering with Friends of Trees as part of her Cooperative Work Experience.
“As an immigrant, you never know if you can continue your career,” Vianey says. “I’m so happy I am able to continue mine here.”
Vianey has stepped into a variety of roles with Friends of Trees, leading crews at events, helping at pruning workshops, even delivering trees with our staff. She’s learned the details of planning and preparation that go beyond planting trees. Still, planting is her favorite part.
“I really like the feeling of dirt on my hands,” she says. “It’s my connection to the planet.”
Vianey wants to share that connection with her family. Whenever she can, she brings her husband and children to planting events. This month, they all attended the Salmonberry Trail plant rescue.
“I bring my kids to events to show them how trees are important,” she says. “They have a good time, and that’s awesome. I want to share my love for trees with them.”
Vianey also leads Spanish-speaking crews, helping make our planting events more inclusive.
“I really like that Friends of Trees provides opportunities for the whole community,” she says. With her love of trees, care for the planet, and connection to community, Vianey truly exemplifies the spirit of Friends of Trees.