By Yashar Vasef, Executive Director, Friends of Trees
The first planting event of the season always sets the stage for me and opens me up to all the connections that can happen when you bring people together. My first event this year drove that home and more. Friends of Trees helped put on a land tending event at Portland Community College – Rock Creek in partnership with Indigenous community groups and other local partners.
Together, we worked to restore what had been a cow pasture on campus at PCC back to an oak wetland. Working with Wisdom of the Elders, the Five Oaks Museum, and Kimimela Consulting gave us the chance to learn about the history of the land and call back to what the original stewards of the lands would have planted. We planted evergreen huckleberry, beaked hazelnut, and of course, Oregon white oak. Once these plants get established, Indigenous communities will be able to forage this land.
More than planting, the day was all about connection.
I met one of our crew leaders, Emily, who has been volunteering with Friends of Trees since she was young. She spoke to me about how much she’s loved getting to see the plants and trees she’s planted grow over time. The event felt truly intergenerational, from one of our long-time crew leaders to a student who saw the land tending event on the school calendar and told me that she couldn’t have been happier to come join.
It was the first planting event for our PGE Project Zero intern Jose. Meng Vue, the Green Space specialist who led this awesome event, talked to me about how Jose is passionate about nature and youth education and that he’s brought such a positive energy to our team. His hard work hasn’t just helped us grow plants, it’s helped our team and our projects flourish too. It was awesome to see him learn the ins and outs of hosting a community event.
I got to spend quality time with Adrienne Moat, the Workforce Development Manager at Wisdom of the Elders and a board member at Friends of Trees, whose support and guidance is so valuable. One of the PCC professors I met told me how important it was for BIPOC people to get together and plant side by side. I felt that too, especially as I connected with several people there over our immigrant backgrounds. These are the sort of deeper conversations made possible by having community planting events like this, and it’s something that I really cherish.
At the start of every season, I’m reminded that getting my hands in the dirt is so spiritually cleansing for me. Sharing that feeling with others makes it feel even better.
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.
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]
New funding will develop the Wilkes Creek Headwaters into an accessible natural area
For three planting seasons, Friends of Trees volunteers have been enhancing the natural area at the Wilkes Creek Headwaters in outer East Portland. The 20.7-acre hybrid park is nestled in the neighborhood, and provides opportunities for local residents to connect with nature. The site was jointly purchased by Portland Parks & Recreation, the Bureau of Environmental Services, and Metro in 2011, and it will be preserved and enhanced as a public space for generations to come.
The natural area is particularly special because it is home to the headwaters of Wilkes Creek, which flows into the Columbia Slough. Just past the planting site, you can see the natural springs where water comes to the surface and turns into a stream.
“The headwaters can be seen bubbling up from the earth near the midway point of the property,” says Maija Spencer, Senior Community Engagement Coordinator for Portland Parks & Recreation. “Forty bird species, coyotes, and the Stumptown scud—a freshwater crustacean found only in the Portland area—call the property home.”
“Wilkes Creek is one of the only remaining free-flowing above-ground streams that makes its way into the Columbia Slough,” says Yoko Silk, a Stewardship Coordinator with PP&R. “There used to be hundreds, now there’s only a handful. So it’s really special for being that source of cold, clean water into the slough. And it provides a really important habitat to all sorts of critters.”
Friends of Trees volunteers have planted native plants throughout the central part of the park as part of the Greening Wilkes Initiative. There’s a wildflower meadow, where they’ve put in thousands of camas, checker mallow, lupine, yarrow, goldenrod, and many more. On the hillside, below an old hazelnut orchard, they have planted shrubs and small-form trees like serviceberry, Oregon grape, snowberry, and oceanspray.
“We want visitors to feel transported,” says Green Space Senior Specialist Harrison Layer. “We’re preserving this natural space as a beacon for birds flying overhead, and wildlife on the ground.”
Wilkes Creek Headwaters has received 8 million dollars in funding for its preservation and development through Portland Parks and Recreation. This park is considered a hybrid space because it’s being enhanced as a natural area at the same time it’s being developed into a usable park with benches, trails, and educational signage. In addition to providing the community with more access to green spaces, developing trails and signage will help protect the natural area that the community has worked so hard to develop.
“Portland Parks & Recreation will collaborate with partners and community members to create a plan for developing the park, with a focus on including the voices of Native and Indigenous communities and communities of color,” Maija says. “The goal is to enhance the park’s natural features, while also providing more recreational opportunities and access to nature for East Portland residents.”
“This is an important park because of its location in East Portland, an area that has less park space and opportunities to connect with nature,” Harrison says. “It also shows the connectivity that a creek can bring to a community. It starts at the park, moves through neighborhoods and industrial space, and eventually flows into the slough. Protecting this area will help protect the Columbia Slough as a whole.”
The Greening Wilkes Initiative incorporates a layered approach to community engagement. Community organizations have joined together in the collaborative effort to enhance and diversify green spaces throughout the neighborhood around Wilkes City Park and Wilkes Creek Headwaters in outer East Portland. Friends of Trees, Portland Audubon, Verde, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, and Portland Parks & Recreation each provide their unique and complementary approaches to community engagement around important natural resources in the Wilkes community.
“I’ve had community members tell me that they didn’t even realize that this natural spring was here,” says Harrison Layer, our Green Space Specialist who leads Wilkes Creek plantings. “It’s really special to share it with them.”
You are invited to join in shaping the future of this special place by joining the email list and applying for the project advisory committee. More info can be found here.
Biking Our Way Into the New Year
Why take a car when you can take a bicycle? The Eugene Branch has always taken that mindset and incorporates bicycle crews into every neighborhood planting event.
“We have some really dedicated bike volunteers,” says Eugene-Springfield Program Manager Taylor Glass. “That’s how we can always have a bike planting crew.”
Bike crews are able to transport trees and tools from the staging site to planting locations by using bicycle trailers. In addition to our own trailers, Hummingbird Wholesale often joins us for a planting with their large electric-assisted bike trailers so that we can transport even bigger loads.
Using bikes instead of cars is a reflection of our desire to take care of our environment, and it makes perfect sense to reduce emissions at a bike planting. Beyond that, it’s just plain fun.
“I just love it,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “It’s so fun to see the look of amazement on people’s faces when a whole crew rides past hauling big trees. And when treecipients see us pull up, they’re so surprised to see we biked their tree over.”
To give even more community members a chance to participate as a volunteer on two wheels, The Eugene Branch partners with a local bikeshare, PeaceHealth Rides, to have their bikes available at events and free to volunteers. In the past, we’ve had about one event per year with PeaceHealth Rides, but this year we’ll have three! The first will be on January 7th.
With success, fun, and enthusiasm from volunteers, Friends of Trees hopes to have more and more bike crews at plantings in every community we work in.