It Should Not Be This Hard to Save Trees in Portland

By Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

Sabin is one of Portland’s tree-deficient neighborhoods. In recent years, as infill has increased, many of the largest trees in Sabin and adjoining neighborhoods have been removed. In the summer, the neighborhood cooks under the glare of the sun. One tree in particular, however, still looms large over this neighborhood: a giant sequoia that is more than 100 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter.

Two people stand in front of a large tree in their yard.

The giant sequoia straddles two residential properties and therefore is jointly owned. In May of 2020, one of the owners, Shayan Rohani and Claire Bollinger, returned home to find a notice issued by the City of Portland Urban Forestry Program declaring the tree a hazard and ordering its removal. The sequoia’s root system was compromising the foundation of the basement of the vacant rental house next door. At the request of the adjacent landowner, and without any attempt to mediate the situation or communicate with Shayan or Claire, the City simply ordered the tree to be cut down. 

Despite repeated efforts to urge the City to withdraw the removal notice and mediate a solution that would save the tree, the notice still stands. Shayan and Claire recently lost their effort to challenge the order before a hearings officer, who found that, although the City failed to live up to its values, appeared to favor one owner over another, and failed to even contact one of the owners, it had not violated any ordinances and therefore the removal order was sustained. The only legal recourse left to Shayan and Claire is to take the case to Multnomah County Circuit Court. 

It should not be this difficult to save a tree in Portland…

When the City adopted its Title 11 Tree Code in 2011, part of the promise of the code was that the City would increase its permitting staff in order to work with the public and find strategies to preserve trees. That clearly did not happen in this case. If a giant sequoia with a base bigger than a VW Bus and located in a tree-deficient neighborhood did not trigger a more creative response from the City, one has to wonder what tree would.

While the City appears to have treated the removal of this sequoia as a routine bureaucratic procedure, the community has been less sanguine. Neighbors make COVID-safe pilgrimages to the tree to check on it. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $9,000, and a petition has generated more than 6,000 signatures. Claire and Shayan continue to look for constructive solutions to save the tree. And perhaps there is hope on the horizon: Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who recently took over the urban forestry program, has signaled her hope that a solution can be facilitated. 

In the short run, the City needs to withdraw the removal order and facilitate a solution that preserves this magnificent tree. In the longer run, this situation speaks to a glaring deficiency in our tree code that needs to be remedied: Certain trees in our community should trigger a higher level of review when they are proposed for removal. Trees over a certain size, especially in underserved neighborhoods, need an extra layer of protection biased toward preservation rather than removal. Some trees should simply not be removed and certainly not through routine bureaucratic processes. The City is currently moving through a multiphase review of the tree code, and we will be advocating for a new layer of protection for our most important neighborhood trees.

In the end it is very unlikely that this sequoia will come down—the City would have to remove Claire and Shayne from their own home, shut down the street to bring in heavy machinery, and cut the tree down itself. It is hard to see tree-hugging Portlanders allowing that to happen. However, this is a battle that never should have had to be fought in the first place. It should not be this hard to save a tree in Portland…


Help support our efforts to reform the Portland Tree Code and other natural resource protections by taking action here.