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!

City Council is considering taking steps to preserve more large healthy trees.

Attend the Public Hearing
When: Thursday March 3, 2016 from 2 – 4 p.m.
Where: Portland City Council Chambers 1221 SW 4th Ave #110, Portland, OR 97204

A photo of a large tree in Portland.
Photo by Holly Erickson

Due to recent public concern about increased development in Portland resulting in the removal of large healthy trees, City Council is holding a public hearing and formulating proposed amendments to strengthen regulations pertaining to large healthy tree preservation. They will be taking into consideration several proposals created by multiple City Bureaus and Commissions.

The public outcry has arisen as many Portlanders have seen their neighborhoods unnecessarily lose large iconic healthy trees.  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.

While a step forward when adopted in 2010, the City’s new Tree Code (Title 11) has proven inadequate to preserve trees in the current market. 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. In January of this year both the Planning and Sustainability Commission and Urban Forestry Commission crafted stop-gap proposals to help preserve more large and healthy trees by raising mitigation fees for developers. Bird Alliance of Oregon and the public advocated through these processes and helped bolster tree preservation measures. City Council will now review these proposals and decide on a final stop-gap measure, enacting better protection for our city’s large trees,  until Title 11’s preservation standards can be reformed through a more comprehensive process.

What you can do!

  1. Attend City Council Hearing on March 3 and testify in support of Bird Alliance of Oregon’s proposed tree code reforms to protect large healthy trees.
  1. Write and call the City Council and urge them to adopt Bird Alliance of Oregon’s proposed tree code reforms.

Commissioner Nick Fish: 503-823-3589 |
Commissioner Steve Novick: 503-823-4682 |

Commissioner Dan Saltzman: 503-823-4151 |
Commissioner Amanda Fritz: 503-823-3008 |
Mayor Charlie Hales: 503-823-4120 |
Council Clerk: 

What to Tell the Portland City Council

  • Support Bird Alliance of Oregon’s proposal
  • Thank Council for taking steps to better protect large healthy trees in development situations
  • Require Inch-for-inch mitigation for cutting large, healthy trees ≥ 30” diameter at breast height (dbh) in development and non-development situations with no cap.
  • Use a graduated system to mitigate for trees ≤30” dbh, which better reflects the value of trees removed.
  • Apply new preservation and mitigation standards to commercial and industrial lands as well as City and Street Trees.
  • Fund Title 11 Comprehensive Reform this year to build on this stop-gap measure.

Planning and Sustainability Commission Proposal

Urban Forestry Commission Proposal

Full Title 11 – Tree Code Reform Proposal of Bird Alliance of Oregon 

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 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.