A Nice Win for Portland’s Trees!

By Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

Planting and protecting trees is one of the simplest and most effective ways that we can improve the health of our urban environment. However, Portland’s Tree Code (Title 11) which was adopted in 2011 has many deficiencies which leave our urban tree canopy vulnerable and impede progress toward reaching the City’s tree canopy goals. One of Bird Alliance of Oregon’s top priorities over the past year has been strengthening the tree code and we are proud to have worked with groups like the Portland Youth Climate Council to advance that agenda. Thanks to sustained grassroots advocacy and continued effort to work with the community by Council members, the Portland City Council has taken important steps forward towards this goal over the last month.

A view of the Portland cityscape, showing buildings and trees from the western hills.
Portland Trees, photo by Bob Sallinger

In late December, Council extended a sunset clause on city code requiring inch-for-inch mitigation when trees over 36 inches in diameter are cut down on residential properties. This will ensure that when the biggest trees in the city are removed, significant mitigation will continue to be required.

On January 8, City Council set an aggressive timeline to address other flaws in the tree code. Council is requiring the bureaus to return to City Hall by July 7, 2020, with recommendations for removing exemptions for protection of trees on industrial and commercial zoned property and for lowering the inch-for-inch mitigation requirements for trees 20 inches and larger. These two changes would have profound positive impacts for Portland’s tree canopy. It is critical that industrial and commercial landowners be held accountable for protecting trees on these lands which are often adjacent to important natural areas and also underserved neighborhoods. Lowering inch-for-inch mitigation requirements to trees 20 inches and larger will ensure that far more neighborhood trees are adequately mitigated in situations where removal cannot be avoided. 

Council also instructed the bureaus to return by December 7, 2020 with a full scope of work for other issues that need to be addressed in the tree code. 

There will be lots of opportunity for continued involvement in the coming months including advocating for adequate funding in the budget process to support these timelines, providing input during the public engagement phase of these processes, and advocating at the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, Urban Forestry Commission, and ultimately at Council to actually adopt strong protection.

We greatly appreciate Council’s recognition of the importance of this issue and their willingness to set more ambitious timelines. We also want to especially call out Commissioner Nick Fish who has long been a strong advocate for trees and natural areas and we are sure would have been pleased to see these issues advanced in a way that highlighted the ability of Council to work together and also with the community to address concerns. Commission Fritz appropriately noted that it was fitting that Council advanced these issues on the same day that it also recognized Commissioner Fish’s outstanding service to the City.

Photo by Bob Sallinger