A Memorial for Lives Lost in the 2021 Heat Dome

72 trees planted for 72 lives lost in Multnomah County

On March 16th at Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham, dozens of volunteers gathered on an especially gorgeous morning, eager to plant trees. While all of our events are climate action, this one had particular significance. All of these new community trees will serve as memorial to the lives lost to the 2021 Heat Dome.

“The 2021 heat dome has brought us into stark understanding of the vulnerabilities of our neighborhoods, where the shade of trees is a precious resource,” says Yashar Vasef, Executive Director for Friends of Trees.

It’s been nearly three years since that historic heat wave with temperatures as high as 119 degrees Fahrenheit, but for many the memory is still fresh. Several families who lost loved ones during the heat dome joined the volunteers at Nadaka to mark the occasion with intentionality and reflect on the purpose of the planting event. The morning was not a somber one, because, as Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson put it in her remarks, “planting a tree is a hopeful act.”

As summer approaches, and with it a chance for another heat wave, it’s important to remember both short and long-term preparedness. We must protect the trees we have, and continue to grow our canopy, especially in neighborhoods that are designated as heat islands.

“In the face of such tragedies, it is imperative that we act decisively on the things we can control,” Yashar says. “Our efforts to plant trees are a stance against the worst outcomes of climate change.”

After remarks from leaders, crews of volunteers headed out into East County neighborhoods to plant street and yard trees that will shade the community. And family members gathered to plant an American hornbeam at Nadaka Nature Park in memory of their loved ones. One family member said they plan to return to the park each year for a family barbecue and to visit and care for the memorial tree.

“Each tree we planted helps build a shield against the worst humanitarian impacts of extreme heat,” Yashar says, “and serves as a testament to our shared commitment to building a safer, more resilient community.”

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The memorial planting event was organized by Friends of Trees, Multnomah County, and the City of Gresham.

What Coalition Means to Friends of Trees

This fall, 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 (IRA) 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 driving theme of the IRA Project is coalition building.

Coalition building goes hand-in-hand with Friends of Trees’ mission to grow community by planting and caring for trees and natural areas together. While we are proud of our past and existing partnerships, this new project is an unprecedented opportunity to take our approach to partnering to the next level by more meaningfully and responsively collaborating with community stakeholders. This includes carving the time and capacity to connect as project partners and people.

We are so excited to work closely with our partners on this project: APANO, Black Parent Initiative, City of Gresham, City of Portland, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Connecting Canopies, Depave, POIC, Verde, and Wisdom of the Elders. We’ll be spotlighting each of these partners over the next year as we work together on a coalition model that moves us forward as a community team. It’ll be a big, complicated effort, but one that is certainly worth taking on so that we can build a more equitable urban forest.

The efforts toward this community coalition made the IRA coalition possible. And it’s become abundantly clear that it played a significant role in securing this transformative coalition grant that’s unprecedented for Friends of Trees! Learn more about the project here.

 

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.

HOW TO TESTIFY

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

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.”

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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:

Let’s Talk About Tree Care

Mulching

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

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.”

Tree inspector

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.

Crew Leader Huddle

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

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.