Reform Portland’s Tree Code To Preserve Large Healthy Trees

Now is the time to reform City rules to preserve more large healthy trees in every neighborhood!

Thanks to the direct action of neighbors and financial donations from the community, the 150-year-old giant sequoias in SE Portland’s Eastmoreland neighborhood were saved from the developer’s chain saws. However, the rules that permitted their removal and the cutting of large healthy trees in neighborhoods across Portland are still in place.  From Powellhurst-Gilbert to St. Johns, from SW Hills to Richmond, Cully, and beyond, Portland’s neighborhoods are experiencing extensive tree cutting driven by a highly lucrative real estate development market.

Photo by Tom Scmid

While a very modest step forward when adopted in 2010, the City’s new Tree Code (Title 11) has proven inadequate to preserve trees in the current environment. Title 11 does not require any tree to be preserved and requires a maximum of $1,200 to mitigate the loss of even the largest, healthiest tree. Also many commercial and industrial zones are entirely exempt from the tree code.

Bird Alliance of Oregon is working with neighbors and tree advocates on reforms to save our city’s large and healthy trees. On January 12 the Planning and Sustainability Commission will consider a stop-gap proposal to help preserve more large and healthy trees by raising mitigation fees for developers. This temporary measure will be put in place until Title 11’s preservation standards can be reformed.

What you can do!

  1. Write and call the City Council and Planning and Sustainability Commission and urge them to adopt Bird Alliance of Oregon’s proposed Tree Code reforms:

2.  Come out to the Planning and Sustainability Commission hearing at 2:15 p.m. on January 12 (1900 SW Fourth in Room 2A) and give testimony and/or stand in support of Bird Alliance of Oregon’s proposed Tree code reforms.

What to Tell the City Council and Planning & Sustainability Commission

  1. Support Bird Alliance of Oregon’s proposed Tree Code Reform.
  2. As a temporary stop-gap measure until Title 11 reforms can be developed and adopted, specifically urge the City Council to:

a.  Require inch-for-inch mitigation for cutting large, healthy, non-dangerous and non-nuisance trees ≥ 30” diameter at breast height “dbh” in development and non-development situations until Title 11 preservation standards can be reformed.

b.  Require posting and a 30-day delay before any tree  ≥ 30” dbh is permitted to be cut.

Why Are Large Trees Vulnerable?

Portland’s Tree Code (Title 11) was developed and adopted in 2009 and 2010 after the collapse of the housing market. While Title 11 provides a more unified code and comprehensive permit process to track and manage tree removal and planting, political compromises in crafting Title 11 preservation standards left them far short of expectations and inadequate to protect Portland’s large healthy trees. Title 11’s preservation standards do not actually require that any trees on site be preserved and mitigation fees are way too low and flat to meaningfully compensate for the loss of large healthy trees. There is an urgent need for the City Council to address unanticipated circumstances that have made Portland’s largest and healthiest trees extremely vulnerable to cutting and, in many instances, unmitigated loss.

Why Large Healthy Trees Matter?

A healthy urban forest includes a diversity of species with trees of all different sizes, ages, and a range of tree size and age classes. However, an abundance of research has found that large healthy trees provide a number of environmental functions and values to a much greater degree than smaller trees.  Since past urbanization has undervalued trees in our cities, large healthy trees are rare. That makes their preservation and protection all the more critical to human health and environmental quality in cities.

A number of studies have found large healthy trees play a particularly critical role in supporting clean air and water, wildlife, human health and energy conservation. Large healthy trees are particularly important for:

  • Air Quality – A 2002 study by the USDA found that large, healthy trees greater than >30 inches in diameter remove 70 times more urban air pollution annually than small, healthy trees  (<3 inches in diameter) often planted to replace them.
  • Urban Heat Island – The size, density, and structure of a tree’s canopy – which is directly related to tree health, age and size – influence the extent of shading, the ability of trees to lower temperatures, and thus reduce and mitigate the impacts of the urban heat island effect. Recent research found that Portland has one of the worst urban heat island effects in the United States.
  • Water Quality – The ability of trees to intercept, store, and infiltrate rainfall and reduce urban stormwater runoff is directly related to the size of its canopy and root zones.
  • Biodiversity – The size, age, and species of trees are critical to supporting urban wildlife and biodiversity. Not surprisingly, larger older trees support a greater diversity of birds.
  • Energy Conservation – The size and canopy of urban trees is also directly related to their energy conservation benefits.